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The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

March 22, 2008

I have made a personal commitment. While this spring break (ha ha, 18 inches of snow last night) is in session, I will write one book review a day. Promise. It’s just that I have been so busy reading – and writing. I visited Savannah for a long weekend mid March and was inspired by the colonial cemetery there. The cemetery turns out to be just a tiny part of the story, but sitting on a bench with Spanish Moss hanging from a huge tree above me, the air infused with 250 years of history, was intoxicating and inspiring. The result is I have written forty pages of a new novel… young-adult-urban-fantasy, no less.

So anyway, this is not about me writing, this is about reading a wonderful book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.


I put it on reserve at the library, and when I inquired at the desk, the librarian couldn’t find it anywhere. We searched youth shelves, picture book shelves, intermediate reader shelves, and finally he whispered, “Let me go in the back room.” The secret back room! I shivered. And then out he strode, big grin on his face, beaming success in the quest. With a huge, I mean really chunky book in his hands. I thought, ‘how can this be a child’s book when it is so long?’ I said thank you with a big grin on my face, went home, fluffed up the pillows, and didn’t get up again until I had…. read… the book. So, here is the book review I’ve been blathering about in this convoluted introduction.

The story of young Hugo Cabret is a mystery about an automaton, an orphan or two, the very beginnings of moving pictures, and magicians. It takes place in a Paris train station (très romantique). The grumpy old toy-seller across the street turns out to be George Melies, a real-life magician-turned-pioneering filmmaker, who in 1902 made the first science-fiction movie, A Trip to the Moon.

What made the book fat, for one thing, is thick paper! Very nice to turn the pages, feeling the richness of it. The type was beautifully laid out, too. What took up a fair number of pages, three hundred actually, were the illustrations. I felt like I was peeking into someone’s personal drawing book. Beautiful, pencil drawings, which forward the story, unfurling like a silent movie, instead of using written words. Beautifully rendered, I flipped through the illustrations to see where they were taking the story, and then I would have to go back – rewind the film – and look at each one slowly, to see all of the details. Just gorgeous. Here is an example:



I really don’t want to say any more about the story, because I would hate to give anything away. Just read it! Though recommended for ages 9-12, don’t let this limit you. The book is magical and would be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

The author’s website has lovely information about Brian Selznick’s inspiration for the book, the history of film, automatons, and all kinds of other things that are captivating.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2008 8:06 pm

    A lovely book and the fact that the author also did the illustrations fills me with awe. William Joyce is another children/YA author who’s the same, a double threat. Kids’ books are far more clever, inventive and original these days and Mr. Selznick is ample proof of that. Good post…

  2. March 23, 2008 8:19 am

    I have Santa Calls, by William Joyce. It’s a marvelous fantasy, with delightful illustrations to boot. Have you read ‘Letters From Father Christmas’ by J.R.Tolkien? In 1920, Tolkien started a tradition of writing Christmas letters to his children, written by Father Christmas. Over the years, he illustrated the letters with a variety of characters, including Father Christmas and the North Polar Bear. Tolkien also hand-lettered the envelopes, created North Pole postmarks, and designed his own stamps. My kids loved both of these books. I still read them every December!

    Thanks for the note, Cliff.

  3. March 23, 2008 10:30 pm

    We’re Tolkien fans around here–will seek out LETTERS at the earliest opportunity. Thanks…

  4. May 1, 2008 2:43 am

    Awesome book!! I loved it and all my friends
    did to!!!

  5. May 1, 2008 5:28 am

    Hi 5, Glad to hear you liked it. I have been recommending it all over, too. Thanks for commenting.

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