The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic FLying Books174515865The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

William Joyce, author

Joe Bluhm, illustrator

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 4-8

Themes:  Books, Love, Loss, Healing, Aging

Opening and brief synopsis“Morris Lessmore loved words.  He loved stories.  He loved books.  His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another.  He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.”  One day there was a very bad storm that blew so hard that he lost his home and all the books he loved so much.  Not knowing what to do he started walking.  A lady drifted through the sky pulled by a bouquet of books.  The lady tossed down her favorite book and beckoned him to follow her to a strange building that housed books.  But the books in the building weren’t ordinary — they were extraordinary.   Many books required repair.  Morris started to restore and care for the books.  Some times he got lost in the books.  Morris shared the books with people.  And, once again he began to write in his own book.

Why I love this book:  The book is about life experiences — love, loss and healing.  Adults will enjoy this book.  It is a brilliant book that took William Joyce 13 years to write.  The book began as a tribute to a friend, but after Hurricane Katrina devastated  Joyce’s home state, his book was put on hold.  Joyce visited children in shelters and saw firsthand the healing power of books.  So the storm in the book is a combination of Katrina and the cyclone in the Wizard of Oz.   Joe Bluhm’s illustrations are stunning.  Bluhm uses brown hues similar to the opening of Oz, to give the stark effect of the storm in the book.  As Morris wanders, the book is full of colorful and expressive  illustrations.

Resources:  There are many themes that parents  and teachers can explore when reading this book with a children.   Since the idea grew out of Hurricane Katrina and the tragic losses, it would be a good time to discuss with kids what it means to lose everything and how you rebuild lives with the love and help of family and community.   Donated books were an escape for the kids of Katrina.  We’ve once again experienced devastation with Hurricane Isaac.  As a family you may want to donate to a reputable charity.   Another way to help displaced children in your community is to have your kids donate used books to local organizations.  The book also is about imagination and reading.  Be creative and encourage your kids to make a mobile of their favorite book cover titles to hang in their room, similar to the flying woman and the books.

Visit William Joyce at his website.  Joyce first won an Academy Award for his short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, then turned the film into this imaginative book.  I’ve include a short clip of the video, but the entire film is available on YouTube.   The book also is available as an iPad app.


To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Grandpa’s Tractor

In my last post I reviewed books about children learning the stories and traditions of their elders.  Now I want to share Grandpa’s Tractor, written by a  favorite illustrator and writer, Michael Garland.  His illustrations are bold, colorful, lively and spellbinding.   Each picture could stand alone.  As I sit and gaze at his first picture of Grandpa on his red tractor in a field at sunset, I can  feel the strange stickiness that clings to the grass as it cools at the end of the day, and hear the crickets begin their nightly song.   Children will delight in Grandpa’s story, and adults will reminisce about a time long ago.

Grandpa Joe and Timmy are on their way to visit the old farm where Grandpa Joe grew up.  Although the boarded-up farmhouse has been sold long ago, there was something special Grandpa Joe wanted to show Joey — a tractor that sat rusting in the tall weeds.   The site of the tractor floods Grandpa Joe with memories of when he was a boy and the tractor was new and bright red.   He takes Timmy on an imaginative journey about his life on the farm.  Grandpa remembers sitting on his dad’s lap and steering the tractor as they plowed the fields to plant corn or alfalfa to feed the cows.   Grandpa shows how the tractor is the center of farm life  as we pass through the seasons from planting, to harvesting, to hauling firewood for the winter and cutting down the perfect pine tree for Christmas.

Garland’s inspiration for Grandpa’s Tractor, came from an old rusty tractor near his home.  He passed the tractor for years before he began to imagine “a farmer getting off that tractor fifty years ago, and never getting back on.”   One day he knocked on the door of the farmhouse and met the farmer who had owned the tractor.  The farmer was happy to share the legacy of his tractor and life on the farm.

Garland’s books speak to children.  He is a versatile author and illustrator of many popular books including his latest Miss Smith Under the Ocean, Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook, Miss Smith and the Haunted Library,  The Fourth of July, Snow Day,  Christmas City, The Mouse Before Christmas,  King Puck,  Mystery Mansion and Last Night at the Zoo.   He has a new release coming out Sept. 1,  Oh, What a Christmas.

Passing the Music Down, and The First Music

Passing the Music Down, by Sarah Sullivan and illustrated by Barry Root for children 4-8 yrs.    This engaging book is about traditions and the friendship that forms between a  boy and an old-time fiddle player living in Appalachia.  This true story is inspired by the relationship of two musicians, Melvin Wine and Jake Krack and the bond they form despite their 75-year age difference.  Melvin, a coal minor, was born and raised in West Virginia, where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been musicians.  They passed their music down through their families.   The author has done a lovely job of capturing the spirit and rhythm of Melvin and his music, through her lyrical text.  The illustrations are bold pastel paintings and capture the essence of the story.

A boy from Indiana travels with his fiddle all the way to the hills of Appalachia to hear the old man play his fiddle.  Eager to learn from the man, the boy asks him to “teach me all your tunes?”  For the boy wants to play just like the fiddler.   The fiddler listens to how the boy plays, and invites his parents to pay a visit at his farm where they  play some old-time tunes “older than the towns.”  The family moves nearby so the boy can study with the old man.  They settle deep inside the music creating a bond so strong that the man begins to share his stories with the boy.  The boy develops into a fine musician and travels with the old man playing at American Folk festivals.  As the boy grows into a man, he keeps his promise to the old man, to pass the music down.

The First Music, written by Dylan Pritchett and illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks for children 4-8 yrs.   Pritchett has had a fascination with African storytelling  for years.  He gives 200 storytelling performances a year.  He is the president of the National Association of Black Storytellers.  Prichett’s storytelling takes children to another level filled with rhythm and  sounds.   Again, another way to pass along the history and traditions.   Banks is a master in the use of texture in the oil paintings, which enhance this beautiful storytelling.

The animals living in the west African forest make many sounds.  There are Owls that hoot, hyenas that yelp, parrots that screech, monkeys that chitter and crocodiles that snort.  The frogs sit on their pads in silence.  Everyday more animals join in — an elephant, a crane, a buffalo, a lioness, a hawk — and they play and dance to the sounds each contributes.  The frogs listen and ponder.  Then one morning at day break, a new sound is heard in the forest — Reep-reep-ree!  The frogs have joined the chorus, and realize that when it comes to making music, everyone has something to offer.   And, that’s how every animal in the African forest helps keep the music alive.   This book is alive with sounds, so as you read the story to children, they too can become the chorus and experience the sounds.

My Selections:  I chose these book because in this busy world, our young people are not learning the traditions of their elders, whether it be music, family stories or history.   When meeting with author Greg Mortenson last fall, he commented that when he asked children in Pakistan and Afghanistan if they know their family stories, all their hands shot up.  When he asked the same questions of America students, only a few hands were raised.    So I mention these stories, hoping it will inspire you to share your family traditions and stories with your children.   Encourage them to talk with their grandparents and great-grandparents about their lives.