Author: Brian Selznick
Publisher: Scholastic, 2007
Where and why: I got this at my local library to read for
my children's lit class.
Paris, 1931. We meet a young boy by the name of Hugo Cabret as he flits around the Paris train station he calls his home, keeping the clocks running and trying not to get caught. We don't read this, but see it—detailed and textured illustrations take us into Hugo's world. We will soon hear Hugo's voice and internal thoughts, but the words only tell part of the story, alternating back and forth with the illustrations.
Hugo has a mission and many secrets. Where did his notebook with illustrations of a mechanical man come from? What does the mechanical man do? He believes it will tell him a truth, a secret from his past, that will save his life. With the help of a girl he sees around the station, he does his best to unravel this mystery.
In his Caldecott Award–winning book, Selznick highlights movies and the magic of cinema in his masterpiece, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. His illustrations give readers the sense of watching an old movie, intent on detail and perspective. We learn about the old movies that were pioneers in the industry, and how it was like when people were first exposed to moving pictures.
The story is just as enchanting as the illustrations. I found myself really getting emotionally involved, and feeling what Hugo was feeling. I got sad, furious, and happy at all different points. Though the writing was spare, it worked in the book's dual format.
I don't want to give too much away about the plot, but let me say this: You will want to know what happens to Hugo! There are so many mysteries and questions as we read through the first half, and by the end of the second they are all satisfied (for the most part).
I also loved how Hugo is so brilliant with machines, especially clockwork. Apparently, a lot of magicians used to be clockmakers. I didn't know this! Lots of interesting tidbits in here about those professions, as well as movies.
I would definitely recommend this to readers moving on from easy readers and onto novels. Though this tome is over 500 pages, it's a very quick read—after all, it's mostly pictures. I got through it in a couple of hours. I'd also recommend this to anyone who has an appreciation for art.
As a side note, when this won the Caldecott it caused quite a commotion. Many people were against it because it is technically a book for young adults, and they all felt like it was a betrayal to children and books for children. The Caldecott is mainly awarded to picture books, and this was an aberration that bothered many people. I think it fully deserved it, as it's quite obvious this took Selznick YEARS to complete. Plus, children old enough to read could probably get through this, younger ones with maybe the help of an adult. Either way, it's a great story with amazing illustrations.
What do you think about the controversy?