Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Brian Selznick, author and illustrator
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 544 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press; First Edition edition (January 30, 2007)
winner: 2008 Caldecott Medal
4/5 stars

Hugo Cabret is an orphan, living in a Paris train station, and trying to keep from being discovered.  He has become obsessed with a broken clockwork figure, spending hours studying diagrams and other clockworks so that he can repair it.

Needing pieces, and having no money with which to purchase them, he steals small clockwork figures from a toy stall in the station.  When he is caught by the toymaker, his world takes a drastic turn, filling Hugo's life with mystery and adventure.

Selznick's novel is the first (and so far, only) novel to win a Caldecott award, an honor more usually given to picture books.  This is because The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a story told in pictures as well as words; the initial forty-five pages are illustrations, moving the story along breathlessly, before the first word is read.  These two-page illustrations are a hand-drawn visual delight.  In addition, as the story blends history with fiction beautifully, Selznick includes still photographs from the story's era, as well as frames from the silent movies that figure so prominently in the plot.

The prose does not equal the magnificence of the illustrations, sadly.  It is awkward at points, with sometimes stiff dialogue and a not-always-believable plot line.  That is overshadowed by the beauty of the art, though, and by the historical elements Selznick has woven into his fiction.

While certainly not a literary masterpiece, the visual experience of The Invention of Hugo Cabret   makes this a book well worth reading.

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