September 14, 2018

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

I just read this one a few days ago, on the morning it was due to go back to the library. My daughter had been trying to tell me about it, but the details were getting a bit mixed up, so I decided to just read it for myself. I'm glad I did. It has been awhile since I've read middle grade fiction, actually, so it was a nice change of pace.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
2008 Caldecott medal winner

4 stars: Nice mix of narrative in picture and word forms.

Hugo is a boy who lives in a train station in Paris. His father repairs clocks and anything mechanical at a museum. There's an automoton that his father comes across in the attic of the museum. It's broken. Together the two of them begin to fix it, excited to see what it will do once it's back in working order.

Then his father dies in an fire at the museum. Hugo is left on his own, under the care of his drunken uncle, who is the timekeeper at the train station. Eventually, the uncle leaves too, so Hugo is truly on his own. He knows enough about the clocks (from his uncle) and has enough mechanical know-how (from his father) that he is able to keep the clocks going himself. He has managed to salvage the automaton from the ashes of the museum, so he does his best to start repairing it again as well. He steals food every day and tries to stay out of sight and away from the Station Inspector.

Then one day he steals something from the toy shop booth in the station, and the old man who runs the booth catches him. Piece by piece, his carefully constructed world comes crashing down. What arises in its place will surprise him.

* * * * *
This book is at least half illustrations. Many sections of the story are told entirely in pictures, then the narrative picks back up in words. The book itself is very large for a middle grade book, for that reason.

I enjoyed the mix. Selznick did a great job of integrating the two forms, so that it was fairly seamless. There didn't seem to be any holes in the plot from going back and forth. It was interesting to see what the pictures conveyed vs. what the text said. Obviously, with the text you get to "hear" what the character is thinking, and understand more of their backstory, and the motivations behind their actions. The pictures are more visceral, bringing the emotions to the forefront, and leaving quite a bit as a mystery.

It was very well done. I can see why it won the Caldecott. It would be especially great for kids who aren't very strong readers. It's such a huge book, but goes by so quickly with all the pictures, I would bet they would really feel proud of themselves for finishing it. I can imagine they would be that much more motivated to read the words, too, to find out what's going on in the pictures.

I really liked the ending.

Now I need to check out Wonderstruck again! (I got it for my daughter after this one, but she's already read it and sent it back to the library.)

Do you have a favorite of Selznick's books?

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