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An Ex-Pixar Designer Creates Astounding Kids' Book On iPad

"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" is like a well-written bedtime story and an immersive animated movie at once.

E-books are already a fraught subject for many readers, writers, publishers and designers, but children's e-books are even more so. Is it rotting their minds? Is it as good as good ol' paper? Is it too interactive for their own good? Obviously there are no practical answers to such questions, but at least one children's e-book/app/thingie (what do we call these things, again?) is doing it very, very right. It's called "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," and it's like a well-written bedtime story and an immersive animated movie at once — without being "too much" of either.

Every page has some delightful, hidden feature embedded into it.

Part of why the book works so well is its top-shelf creative pedigree: author William Joyce is also an accomplished illustrator and animator who's published New Yorker covers, won a bunch of Emmys, created character designs for some of Pixar's first animated classics, and worked on many others for Dreamworks and Disney. With his cohorts at Moonbot Studios, he created an interactive book-app around the story and a standalone animated film—so you can experience "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" however you like.

Designing interactive interfaces for kids is no mean feat, and the Moonbot team really made some great choices with "Morris Lessmore." When you open up the app, it doesn't waste your time with teaching-screens about how to interact with it—it just smoothly enters the story. (A key feature, I imagine, when you want to get Junior to go the youknowwhat to sleep ASAP.) Gently animated cues surface in the lush visuals at just the right time, encouraging you to explore the app rather than slavishly plod through it: When a house gets picked up in a tornado, you can use your fingers to swipe and spin it around—but you don't have to.


In fact, the interface design is so subtle it wasn't until I was about six pages in that I realized that every page of the app has some delightful feature embedded into it that you have to find for yourself. This is the key to a successful children's book—inviting them to play and explore and be curious, not just jab buttons to activate cheesy visual effects. And mercifully, every gewgaw in the book has a button so you can toggle it on or off: For example, you can kill the voiceover so you can read to your kid in your own voice the way God intended, or silence the music and sound effects if you want to. But they're all just a tap away if you change your mind—and the whole experience is so well-produced, you very well just might.

[Buy "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" in the iTunes App Store for $4.99]

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  • Jahmaz

    Excellent Interactive Book!  I have already made this book a christmas gift for my children.

  • Erin Tullius

    I completely agree, Eric! We love these interactive stories, but they are not good for bedtime! They are great for downtime, like plane rides, etc. though! We are currently on a year long journey with our 5 year old son, and we love reading the more book-like stories on the iPad at bedtime.

    Erin Tullius
    Author, The Gnomad Adventures series

  • Mr Petermueller

    Every time I read a review about Moonbot studios, I am left in awe at what they already have and continue to accomplish. But John, please remember that there are plenty of much smaller independent authors and illustrators out there too! While our apps might not have all of the eye candy and interactivity, we still write stories that can grab at your heart!

  • Grant

    This is certainly an inspirational effort. Our studio has been developing a concept to convert a book into an animated interactive app and thought for a moment approaching this way was going to be one of the first...not to be, but I think the approach is great for the medium. As for the knockers, you obviously have zero appreciation for the time it takes to make something to this level and production value. The comment about a glorified picture book is pretty ordinary, love to see your revolutionary idea and execution. 

  • Thor Augenblicken

    Good Lord, that is probably the coolest Ebook I've ever seen.  I may have to make that my next purchase.

  • Mary-Louise O'Brien

    What about all the Android users who now outweigh the Apple users? Please develop this for the Android platform too!

  • thismarty

    Has Pavlus actually surveyed what's out there in iPad kid's books at all - every feature he gushes about in this "review" is pretty much standard.  Fantastic has Joyce's (who's Pixar experience is more or less just a niche in his long and fantastically varied career) wonderful visual stylings but is otherwise pretty familiar stuff - interactive toys hidden in the art, interstitial mini-games, reading options.  It's a good Kid's book app indeed, but not the revolutionary bolt from the blue you'd expect after reading this post.  Honest.

  • Andrea

    For the seventh grade students with disabilities that I teach who are very reluctant readers, this is perfect.  In an ideal world, words on a page would be enough, but when every encounter with the written word is like trying to solve a difficult puzzle, there are times that animation, sound, and a narrator is very much needed.  I wish there were more stories like this.  We also read novels, but iPad books like this one help fill in between and really grab the attention of my students.  Some other companies I love for animated books include Ruckus (John Henry, Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed all read by well-known actors such as Denzel Washington, Robin Williams, etc.) and Moving Tales (Pedlar Lady, Unwanted Guest...very immersive graphics).

  • Runar

    Good stories encourages people / kids to read. This is just an interactive movie. It's brilliant, but it does definitely not encourage kids to read! Reading is all about letting the fantasy do it's magic. No room for magic here.

    I'll however be the first (or at least one of the first) to acknowledge a brilliant creation! :-)

  • Deb Boughton

    WOW... I want to be a kid again! If this doesn't encourage people (kids especially) to read then I don't know what will...