Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick--a review

My friend Greg (see Thursday's post, and his blog GottaBook) has done it again. He recommended a very cool book for my son that we both ended up reading. If you have a reluctant reader (ages 9-12) in your house, this might be just the thing.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, is unusual for several reasons. First of all it weighs in at a hefty 500+ pages, but it shouldn't be intimidating, because it isn't all text. It's a very careful blending of pictures and text, sort of like a graphic novel, but...different. The format is really unique. Selznick uses his beautiful pencil drawings to create action sequences, which he intersperses with the text, and which you view almost like the frames of a film.

Kids might know Selznick's artwork from his illustrations of other books, including the Caldecott-winning The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, or Walt Whitman: Words for America, or When Marian Sang.

The story, set in Paris in 1931, is about 12-year-old orphan Hugo Cabret, who lives in secret in a train station and takes care of the clocks there. He is a mechanical genius from a family of clockmakers, and he is obsessed with fixing a broken, man-shaped automaton that his father had been trying to fix before he died.

When Hugo runs afoul of the bitter, old toyshop owner he has been stealing mechanical parts from, the story becomes a mystery--and the story unfolds to create a better life for both the old man and the young boy.

The pictures are used very cleverly to advance the story, and so the plot sails smoothly along, which I think is satisfying for young readers. Selznick doesn't do as well with character development, however--I would say the characters are the weak link in this book. Hugo's secrets, the old man Georges' crankiness, his goddaughter Isabelle's secrets--all the characters' motivations are explained by the end of the book, but feel thin in the telling.

One nice by-product of reading this book--my son got interested in the early, silent movies that this book talks about, and shows stills from, which has kicked off a fun film festival here at our house.

Overall, it's a beautiful book, and it will give reluctant readers a great sense of accomplishment when they finish it.

6 comments:

Jen said...

sounds great -- just ordered two, one for each (gotta avoid those night-time arguments!) thanks for the tip and see you tomorrow!

T. said...

Hope they like it! And I hope you enjoy the drawings, it's a really beautiful book. See you tomorrow!

Jen said...

spencer read half of this last night and loves it!

T. said...

It's got just enough of a mystery to really keep them going...glad Spencer is liking it :)

Jen said...

did you see the review in today's lat???

Gentle Reader said...

Jen, I hadn't seen the LA Times article until you pointed it out to me...thanks! It's interesting to see what Selznick says about the evolution of the book...