I’m looking for an app about… books

Every month, I link up with Playing By the Book’s blog for a carnival of book reviews under the title “I’m Looking for a Book About…” This month, the topic is all about exploring books, authors and illustrators. Usually I try to put together a list of suitable book apps, but for me this month there is one app which stands head and shoulders above the crowd. It is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore by Moonbot Studios.

“Morris Lessmore loved words. He loved stories. He loved books.”

Morris Lessmore is an enchanting, inspiring love letter to the power of stories and books. Based on the Oscar-winning short animated film, you quickly become immersed in this beautiful app. When we first downloaded it, my children were absolutely spellbound. We got to the end of the story, there was a short silence, and then Mr Tall (aged 5) said “Well. Can we watch that again?” So we did. And have rewatched on several occasions since. (Actually, it is interesting that although it is a book app with turnable pages, we talked about watching it, perhaps because it is so clearly based on the animated film.)

The story follows Morris Lessmore, a book lover and writer who is picked up along with his house in a storm and dumped in the middle of nowhere. He has lost everything, including the words in his book, which fly away in the wind. But then a lady floats by with a flock of flying books like balloons. The books lead him to an incredible library, where he builds a new life among the words, taking care of them, sharing stories with other people, and beginning to write his own once more. And when his story comes to an end, a new one is ready to begin as a little girl picks up his book for the first time.

It is a wonderful tribute to the power of the books, including writing your own stories and illustrating them too. I love the way it shows stories being handed down through generations, and the central role of the library in sharing books and ideas. As the author and director William Joyce says, a library contains “one thousand whispered invitations to adventure“. Even better is that this message is found in a book app. So often questions are asked about whether apps will replace books, but for us and I suspect many other families, if anything they replace television or other screen time. We love story apps, but we love physical books too. Both are great media to tell stories, experienced in different ways. Usually my children use book apps by themselves after the first few times, listening to the story (they are not readers yet) and enjoying the power of influencing it through the interactive features. We also spend a lot of time sharing physical books together, snuggled on the sofa or in bed with three or four picked from the bookshelf, enjoying spending a little more time on the illustrations, repeating favourite rhymes, or making up silly voices for the characters.

Joyce says making Morris Lessmore as Moonbot Studios’s first feature was a way to “express our feelings about the power of stories and how this can change your life”. In the “making of” film included in the app, he explains how he based the character on his mentor Bill Morris who worked for Harper Collins for over fifty years. Joyce wrote the story as a parable of Morris’ life, as he was dying. The story was also inspired by the experiences of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He recalls the sight of streets full of books as a symbol of the effect on people there who were lost and trying to find their own stories again. Working on a project with survivors of Katrina, Joyce saw the “curative power of stories” and how their faces would light up as they told their own life stories.

Things Mr Tall and Little Miss Chatterbox love about Morris Lessmore…

  • when you can write in the book and then the words fly away
  • it’s funny when you make Humpty Dumpty and Morris say hello
  • you can make the seasons change
  • Morris can go flying through the words
  • the sky goes blue when you press it
  • you open the door and he falls out of his house
  • you choose a book and make the person into a character

Things I love about Morris Lessmore…

  • the way the silent short film (which you can view within the app) has been turned into a narrated app, cleverly integrating interactivity into different film sequences. The interactivity is not always obvious at first glance, but is always clever, often novel and moves the story on or illustrates its core themes.
  • the way books pour vivid colours into dull, grey people and backgrounds when they touch them (Joyce cites the Wizard of Oz as an influence)
  • the beautiful animation which has clearly had so much time and care taken over it – including the making of thousands of books as 3D models
  • the Making Of film is very inspiring and made me immediately want to go out and create something – it’s fantastic to see the creative process behind the film and app

As well as a story app, Morris Lessmore is also available as a hardback picture book. This can be used with a special app called IMAG•N•O•TRON which enables you to bring the pages to life when you hold your iPhone or iPad in front of the book. We haven’t had the opportunity to try this yet (Father Christmas take note!)

If you don’t already own it, The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore is really worth downloading – a beautiful app with a very important message at its heart.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore by Moonbot Studios. Compatible with iPad. Available from https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/fantastic-flying-books-mr./id438052647?mt=8 priced at £2.99/$4.99 at time of writing.