Tuesday, December 27, 2011


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The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick, Scholastic Press, 2007, 533 pp

I kept putting off reading this book, winner of the Caldecott Award in 2008. A few days before the movie ("Hugo") came out, I picked it up and read it in a couple hours. It is astonishingly good and speaks to adults as well as children.

Hugo Cabret has had much sorrow and loss in his young life. Orphaned, then abandoned, he lives a secret, lonely life in a Paris railroad station, keeping the clocks running and stealing food. His fascination with an automaton, a mechanical man who can write messages, and his technical skill are the only means Hugo has of making sense of his life.

The story of how he solves the mysteries and problems besetting him is full of danger, chance encounters, determination and wonder. Hugo is a child hero in the spirit of Harry Potter, David Copperfield, and Nobody Owens. While courage and intelligence are essential to his survival, it is imagination which drives him.

Brian Selznick's illustrations are sublime. In a unique arrangement that transcends both picture books and graphic novels, those illustrations tell parts of the story in the place of text. Somehow the transitions from pictures to text and back again are seamless.

I had started to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret to my granddaughters this past summer but we never finished it. The ten-year-old read it on her own, also in anticipation of the movie. Then we all saw "Hugo" together. It was so cool to sit next to Emma and whisper about what was just like the book and what was changed. The film completely captures the wonder of the book and enhances the story with clips from the silent movies that are integral to it.

Read the book!

See the movie!

(The Invention of Hugo Cabret is available on the children's book shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it in your local bookstore click on the cover image above.)

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