Oscars: A cartoon about the wonders of reading takes the prize

'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,' a 14-minute cartoon about the joy of books, took the Best Animated Short Film Oscar.

Mark J. Terrill/STF/AP
Children's author William Joyce (r.) offered a shout-out to the resilient folk of Louisiana during his acceptance speech for Best Animated Short Film, saying, 'We’re just down there in Louisiana, where people just keep on trying and keep going.'

On a night devoted to the wonders of film, at least one category at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony offered a shining testament to the wonders of books, too.

Children’s author William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, directors of a 14-minute cartoon called “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” took home an Oscar Sunday for Best Animated Short Film.

True to its title, the animated short is a magical story about the joy of books. In a nod to the state where Joyce and Oldenburg’s studio is located, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” has a Louisiana theme, as the title character, his books blown away in a storm that closely resembles Hurricane Katrina, finds his library reconstituted by whimsical volumes that fly like birds. As Lessmore faces old age and the prospect of mortality, he realizes that literature, like his timeless flying books, has the power to outlive individual lives.

A clip of the film, and an app that allows viewing of the entire cartoon, is available at for online viewing.

Joyce, who lives in his native city of Shreveport, La., is best known as the author of fantastical children’s books such as “Dinosaur Bob,” “George Shrinks” and “Rolie Polie Olie,” many of which have been adapted as animated productions.

In accepting the award, Joyce gave a nod to the resilience of his fellow Louisiana residents since Katrina. “We’re just down there in Louisiana, where people just keep on trying and keep going, and thank you to the Academy,” Joyce told the audience.

Joyce’s Oscar proved more auspicious than his first attempt at an award for his work.

In a 2000 interview with The Baton Rouge Advocate, Joyce recalled his second-grade entry in an elementary school contest to see which student could write and illustrate the best story.

Joyce thought he had the contest cinched with his entry, “Billy’s Booger.”

When he was summoned to the principal’s office where his parents had gathered, Joyce thought his family had been assembled to watch his take home the trophy. Instead, the Joyces got a lecture from the principal on little William’s lapse in good taste.

Discouraged but not defeated, Joyce kept drawing and writing.

Sunday’s Oscar win is a measure of how far he’s come – and of the power of books to change lives forever.

Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”

Join the Monitor's book discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.