The Invention of Hugo Cabret
By Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press; March 2007; 544 pp.; $22.99 HC
Core Audience: Readers of all ages who love mystery and magic; will especially appeal to readers ages 9-12 who appreciate graphic novels and anime
Strengths: Innovative mix of purely graphic representation and written story; a whole new approach to chapter book fiction
This book is one of my top picks for 2007, and we’re not even there yet. There is so much to get excited about here that it is difficult to know where to begin.
Let’s start with the design of the book. Here we have a hardcover chapter book that clocks in at a hefty 544 pages, yet this is a case where that old adage about judging a book by its cover is true…. 284 of those pages are luminous full-bleed black and white illustrations that work to tell key passages of the story like a silent movie. In the pages of this book we have pans, jump cuts, close-ups, tracking shots, zooms….. Brian Selznick has managed to take the visual language of film and capture it in the pages of this book. Each page of the book is surrounded by a black border which feels like a frame of film or the edge of a movie screen. The reader will be rolling along, reading a fairly traditional page of text, and then at a key moment of the story, they will be transported into a magic world of purely visual storytelling without words. On other pages, minimal text floats on a mostly white page with the black border, so it is possible to feel as though the pages of the book are flying by, almost as if by magic. As a reader, each new page is a discovery of the most delightful and breathless kind.
And then there is the wonderful story itself, which centers around Hugo Cabret, orphan, clock keeper, sometimes thief, who unbeknownst to anyone is living deep in the walls of a Paris train station where he struggles with his day to day existence. When he meets a girl at the station bookshop, his life is forever changed as he finds all of the various parts of his past and present interlocking like the gears of the clocks he winds. With elements like an angry toy maker, a dusty human automaton, wind up mice, an ancient fire, and a secret abandoned hideaway, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a truly mysterious hybrid of storytelling forms. Evocative of the gothic stories of ETA Hoffman, the magical early films of the silent era, and the best work of picture book authors like Raymond Briggs and David Weisner, Brian Selznick has created a wonderful masterpiece.