The Invention of Hugo Cabret – A Novel in Words and Pictures
by Brian Selznick
Everyone I’ve talked to who has read this 2007 novel has simply raved. It took me a few months to take their advice and give it a go, but boy, I’m glad I did! Not only did it feature beautiful black-and-white drawings and a cool 1920’s setting, but The Invention of Hugo Cabret had a gripping storyline that kept me on the edge of my seat and took my heart for a ride. In its mysterious European tones, “Hugo” reminds me of the dark memories in Zafon’s amazing Shadow of the Wind, but for children, and with a completely different story.
As the opening scene unfolds through a series of captivating full-page drawings, we see the iconic Parisian skyline illuminated by the morning sun. The focus zooms to the train station where we follow a young boy down a remote, unlit hallway, through an antique metal grate, and into the veiled world of behind-the-walls mechanization.
Our hero, Hugo, is a pre-teen orphaned Parisian boy whose cunning is only matched by his desperation. He moves like a phantom as he keeps all of the stations’ [analog! yes!] clocks to astronomical precision, and makes daily rounds to steal food to survive in his covert existence. All he has left of his family is his clockmaker father’s notebook, filled with drawings of a so-called automaton. As Hugo struggles to hold to this remembrance in the face of danger, he unearths a past long-buried by its owner.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is historical fiction, and was inspired by the true story of a broken, neglected collection of mechanical figurines in Paris that were once used by magicians to impress 19th century audiences. Additionally, Selznick incorporates characters based on important pioneers in the early film industry, and in doing so, adds another layer of historical intrigue.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a masterpiece not only in its unforgettable storytelling, but in its deft combination of magical text, rich illustration, and occasional original photos as well. What makes “Hugo” special is how it uses illustrations to do more than enhance a storyline; the action of whole sections of chapters is carried forward my series of illustrations. According to my future-librarian friend Emily, this sets Selznick’s novel apart from other illustrated works: the pictures are an integral part of the novel, on par in importance with the text. I’ve heard from teachers that thanks to its inventive use of interspersed illustrations, the novel captured new young readers who had been resistant to the written word. Now that’s what I call great children’s literature! Selznick’s form is practically poetic, and inspired in me a feeling of wonder. My curiosity kept me turning page after page, until I reached the imaginative ending and the last glimmer of moonlight disappeared into the night.
I highly recommend this amazing work of literature and illustration, for children and adults alike.
Here are some links if you want to learn more:
–Official Book Website: contains an impressive collection of information, multimedia, and links related to the history behind Hugo.
–Movie Details: Martin Scorsese is directing a (live action?) version of the book, starring Ben Kingsley, that will premiere in 2011.