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The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Review

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A boy walks through the train station like a ghost tending to the station’s numerous clocks. Orphaned and alone, he travels through the hidden passages of the station making sure the clocks run on time to avoid the notice of the Station Inspector.

He does not like tending the clocks by himself or living alone in the station. He especially hates stealing what he needs. But if he is to finish his work, he has no choice. He has to remain invisible.

All he has left of his father is an automaton–a mechanical man–that they were trying to rebuild. Once it is complete, the automaton can be wound up and it will write a note. The boy is certain that the note will answer all of his questions and tell him what to do now that he is alone.

The note is going to save his life.

But rebuilding the automaton is not going to be easy. To complete him, he will need special clockwork pieces from the old man who sell toys in the station. When the old man catches the boy stealing, it seems like he will never finish the automaton or learn its secret message.

The year is 1931. The place: Paris. In a train station in the middle of the city lives a boy named Hugo Cabret. His head is full of secrets and his story is about the begin in The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (2007) by Brian Selznick.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a lot of things. It’s a bit of a book, a bit of a picture book, maybe even part graphic novel. It was the 2008 winner of the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children. It is 544 pages long. It is a surprisingly fast read.

The most important thing to remember about this book is that it will not be completely different from every other book you’ve ever read.

Selznick seamlessly blends pictures and words to create a story that is simultaneously literary and cinematic. Set in the era of early cinema, Selznick’s illustrations capture the essence of film stills in book form. The book design is original and often stunning. That is not to say that there is anything superficial about The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick brings depth to both the written and visual elements of this story.

At the same time, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an informative and entertaining story. Hugo’s journey itself is fascinating, to have that story combined with the story of Georges Melies–one of the real pioneers of modern cinema–sets this book apart as something really special. A must read for book lovers and scholars of film and cinema alike.

If you want to see Brian Selznick talk about the book and its inspiration you can watch the video found on the book’s Amazon product page.

Possible Pairings: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, You Don’t Know Me by David Klass, The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Clockwork by Phillip Pullman, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

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