Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (a short film)

This is so lovely I just have to share it. A bookish film for all kinds of people. It’s about 15 minutes long and worth the time. And a happy Tuesday to you all!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

(Tip: Sorry it’s so small–this gorgeous little film deserves better. There’s a full-screen button in the corner.)

[Edit 2/29/2012: This film won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film several weeks ago. Hooray! Congratulations! But that means that it’s been taken offline. If you’d like to buy it and support the filmmakers, it’s on iTunes here. Thanks for…trying to watch!]


E. Nesbit: The Enchanted World in Real Life

The princess is looking to get married, and she begins her search in a rather un-fairytale way: “You know, of course” (says the author) “that a handsome book is sent out every year to all the kings who have daughters to marry… only instead of  illustrations showing furniture or ladies’ cloaks and dresses, the pictures are all of princes who are of an age to be married, and are looking out for suitable wives. The book is called the Royal Match Catalogue Illustrated,–and besides the pictures of the princes it has little printed bits about their incomes, accomplishments, prospects, and tempers, and relations.” Apparently living in a fairy tale world doesn’t preclude a background check.

In E. Nesbit’s world, fantasy and real life collide all the time. A boy talks to a china cat, while a king resigns so he can catch butterflies (“My kingdom can buy a President and be a republic if it likes,” he says).

Another boy begins his story with complete honesty: “We had never seen our cousin Sidney till that Christmas Eve, and we didn’t want to see him then, and we didn’t like him when we did see him.”

It’s a world where kids can hear the wind talking, where you can breathe underwater, where animals, at least, will always tell you the truth. In my first and favorite E. Nesbit book, The Enchanted Castle, Gerry and Kathleen and Jimmy find a magic ring–only of course they don’t know about the magic until it’s caused them heaps of trouble. (But of course! Since when do magic rings come with directions?)

E. Nesbit writes quirky, realistic, and thoroughly imaginative stories. And the best part? She was published between 1885 and 1913–a hundred years ago. I would never have guessed it. Beyond the charming language that comes with reading about British schoolchildren, there’s virtually no barrier to read across. (Similar to the books of C. S. Lewis–who, incidentally, mentions some Nesbit characters, the Bastables, in The Magician’s Nephew.)

In Nesbit’s writings there’s a carefree playfulness balanced by the very serious work of being a kid. I love it, and I love how she weaves adventure into daily life (it was probably there all the time). Then Ms. Nesbit talks about the nagging feeling you have afterward. What if the adventure was all made up?  Well, she says, if you try to explain everything away, then “you are the kind of person who always makes difficulties, and you may be quite sure that the kind of splendid magics that happened to [other children] will never happen to you.”


These are the E. Nesbit books I’ve read (and loved) so far. All of the above quotations are from her short story collection, The Magic World.  She wrote many more, and also books for adults (which I’ve not read but I’d like to hear your review if you have).

If you like E. Nesbit, you might like:
Alice in Wonderland
The Oz series (begun with the Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
The Princess Bride
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede

And this article, talking about the American imagination and why E. Nesbit never caught on in the U.S. (a terrible thing, in my opinion). What about you? Have you read anything by E. Nesbit? Anything to recommend?

Book of the Week: Wolves Of Willoughby Chase

Sometimes we read to improve ourselves. Sometimes, to learn from others’ mistakes. Maybe we read to pretend we’re smart and know things. And then sometimes, we read for the sole purpose of playing make-believe.

Wolves of Willoughby Chase is one of the latter.  If you have ever wanted to be a rich 12-year-old girl wandering through secret passageways, wearing pelisses (whatever they are, it sounds like luxury), and going on adventures with the goose-boy—then this book is for you. For the rest of you, I deeply apologize. You may want to keep your smelling salts nearby in case you get queasy.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a fun book! Here’s the plot: Bonnie is the aforementioned girl with oodles of money and few cares in the world. Cousin Sylvia comes to live with Bonnie just as Bonnie’s parents are leaving on a long voyage. The cousins’ adventures begin, however, when an evil governess takesover the estate in absence of parents. The girls are sent to a boarding school in conditions worthy of a Dickens novel, and all is surely in despair—what will they do??

Seriously, I don’t want to ruin it for you. I liked the solution. (It involves Simon the goose-boy.)

I get shivers just looking at it. I'd take wolves over this bad boy any day.

Wolves of Willoughby Chase is part fairy-tale, part social novel, and a little scaryness thrown in. The wolves from the title would have frightened me badly as a kid (heck, we watched “Pinocchio” when I was three and I dreamed about giant man-eating whales for years—so maybe I’m a bad judge).  For the overall feel, think Series of Unfortunate Events, minus the doom and despair.  But that’d be a whole different book series, wouldn’t it?

Willoughby Chase‘s only major life lesson is that one should always check the evil governess’ references before leaving on vacation. But author Joan Aiken wrote about things she liked, which can be a good deal better than pleasing an audience. And in this case, she did both.

If you liked this book, you might also like:

other books by Joan Aiken
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
and, if you’re willing to wade through long sentences (which you obviously are if you read this blog…) any books by Charles Dickens

(Speaking of Charles Dickens, Oprah has recently discovered him. Good to know his existence has been validated.)

What do you guys think? Aiken’s plot seems rather unoriginal to me—but maybe that’s overrated. Do authors need to be original–or should they just write about whatever they like?


[click on photos for photo credits.]