Words Plus Pictures Equals Riveting Adventures

As the holiday season approaches there are abundant movie releases aimed at families and children. One of the most eagerly awaited is Hugo based on Brian Selznick’s Caldecott Medal book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This movie, enhanced by 3-D, is directed by Martin Scorsese in steam punk style, which seems perfect for its 1931 Paris setting. Because the story deals with the early history of cinema it seems an ideal, if unusual, vehicle for Scorsese.

But, it’s the book that we’re interested in. Its format was so different from any previous title that when first released it became a near instant classic. Although 500 pages long, it only takes a few hours to read. The book is interspersed with the author/illustrator’s original drawings which, instead of simply illustrating the written story, forward the plot. There are also still images which you may recognize. These were taken from several early French movies by a film pioneer whom you’ll meet in the book.

The story revolves around Hugo, a child who lives behind the walls in a Paris train station. Orphaned and taken in by his uncle, the clock keeper for the station, Hugo becomes desperate after his uncle disappears. He is determined not to be discovered so Hugo continues to maintain the clocks in the station, but being unable to cash his uncle’s pay checks he is forced to steal to survive. When not looking after the clocks, Hugo pours over his father’s notebook trying to make sense of the mechanical drawings.

When Hugo is caught stealing from the toy shop in the station, the old shop keeper finds Hugo’s notebook and keeps it. Devastated by this loss, Hugo resolves to find the automaton illustrated in the notebook and bring it back to life. Reconstructing the automaton will bring Hugo, the enigmatic shopkeeper and his god-daughter, Isabelle, together in order to unravel the mystery of the origin of this automaton and its meaning to the shopkeeper.

One hopes that the movie will hold up to the inventiveness of the book, but meanwhile, Brian Selznick has just released a new book, Wonderstruck, another hefty tome coming in at just over 600 pages. The format is similar to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but the illustrations in Wonderstruck tell a parallel tale 50 years in the past.

The story told in text is set in 1977 and concerns Ben who is grieving for his mother, killed in a car accident. Ben is determined to find his father who he’s never known and sets off, aided by clues, to find his father in the city. The parallel illustrated story tells of Rose, a deaf child who escapes her room in Hoboken, New Jersey, and makes her way to The American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Here, the two compelling stories intertwine and continue. Readers will recognize Brian Selznick’s homage to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in this stunning, original and completely satisfying story.


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