Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Saying to a fourth grader, "Hey, I think you'll like this book," might get you a funny look. Say that while holding up a book that's Bible thick at 533 pages will earn you a downright scornful glare. Unless that book is The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Once children see the treasure inside they'll be intrigued at worst and flat-out hooked at best. Hugo Cabret uses pictures unlike any other book that comes to mind. While picture books like Caldecott winning Tuesday and Flotsam by David Wiesner have told stories wordlessly, Hugo Cabret incorporates the wordless story into a novel. The pictures don't show what the reader is reading. The pictures tell the story. Readers engrossed in the novel will suddenly encounter 20 pages of pictures. The pictures pick up seamlessly where the writing leaves off and lead smoothly into the next section of text.

Hugo Cabret has inherited the job of timekeeper at the Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century from his uncle who has disappeared. Hugo must keep all the clocks running. He lives in the walls of the station.

Hugo meets Isabelle and her godfather, Papa Georges, the owner of a toy shop. Hugo also has an automaton - sort of a turn of the century robot normally used by magicians - from his father. Hugo painstakingly restores the automaton and believes that it will create a message from his father. The mystery deepens when a key Isabelle has operates the machine, and the automaton's message is signed by Papa Georges! How could these connections have occurred?

All answers are eventually revealed. There are hints throughout the book, starting immediately, leading to tense rising action and a satisfying happy ending. Readers are also introduced to a early filmmaking. Many early movies are mentioned, and with a little Internet digging, readers can easily locate and watch A Trip to the Moon by Georges Melies, originally made in 1902, which plays a major role in the book.

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