Thursday, March 5, 2009
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, is a lovely story and a visual treat. The illustrations really are stunning. Initially when I chose the book I thought it might be a Newbery winner because of its length. I had no idea that a Caldecott medal winner could be a chapter book, let alone a 500+ pages chapter book. Two hundred eighty-four of the pages of Hugo's story are illustrations. The black border reminds me of a graphic novel but the black and white illustrations remind me of a silent film. The reader sees the story transform from illustration to illustration as each "pane" moves the story along. I felt as if I were following someone with a camera that was chasing after, or peeking in on, the characters of the story. When the story begins we find Hugo, a 12 year old, taking care of himself and all the clocks in the train station. His parents are dead and his uncle, who is supposed to be taking care of the clocks and Hugo, left months ago and has not returned. He is staying within the walls of the train station. He has no food, no friends, and no family. He finds himself in trouble with a man that runs the toy booth next door. Hugo has been stealing from him. He meets the man's goddaughter, Isabelle, and eventually befriends her. Hugo is interested in magic, movies, and the interworkings of clocks and all types of machines. He is working on a "mechanical" man that his father left for him and he is trying to solve several mysteries. As the mysteries unfold we find out that the magic, movies, and machines play an integral part in the telling of the story. The bits and pieces of information we learn about early filmmaking and the director Georges Melies and his role in the start of the film industry is very interesting. Films, just like books, take you to places and times you've never been and may never be able to go. Melies understood that and appreciated the wonder of being taken to another time and place. Selznick takes the reader of this story on a visit to 1931 Paris. The illustrations more than move the story along, they give the reader a glimpse into life in Paris at that time. Years and years ago I visit France with other students from my high school French Club. I fell in love with the magic of it all and remember it fondly. Reading about Hugo's adventure with Isabelle and the mystery surrounding Isabelle's godfather reminded me of my own fun adventure years ago!