Saturday, January 02, 2010

Reader's Diary #559- Brian Selznick: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I don't like to throw words like wonderful, amazing and marvelous around lightly.

Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret is wonderful. Winner of the Caldecott Medal in 2008, I wasn't sufficiently impressed at that point. I was almost guaranteed there'd be decent illustrations, but as it's an award for illustrations, I've learned that that doesn't always mean I'd like the book as a whole; sometimes the stories accompanying those Caldecott winners have been read duds. I've always felt that the relationship between text and illustrations needs more consideration.

The relationship between text and illustrations (and photographs) in Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret is amazing. It's not that one simply enhances the other, it's that one is vital to the other. At 511 pages, it has gotten credit for being the first novel to win the Caldecott. But is it a novel? According to Selznick himself, "not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things." It's true, and it's that inventive approach to writing that makes this book so wildly exciting. It's a marvelous homage to imagination and wonder and, and, and... clearly I get giddy when talking about books this great.

Set in 1930s Paris, it is the tale of Hugo Cabret a twelve year old boy who lives and works at a train station. Hugo's life isn't easy but the hope of repairing a mysterious automaton (mechanical man) first discovered by Hugo's now deceased father keeps him going. But it's so much more than that. It's about time, clocks, magic and machinery. It's also a mystery and a tribute to the imaginative and innovative French director Georges Melies whose silent films of the turn of the century astounded audiences.

Even the production of the book itself is a treat. With its black framed pages, black and white movie stills, and sketches it captures the time brilliantly. Do modern readers need vibrantly coloured illustrations to hold their attention? My kids and I finished the book in two afternoons. Even if you don't have kids, you need to read this book.

A masterpiece.


raidergirl3 said...

It was like no other reading experience, and I want him to write another book.
So glad you all enjoyed it.

John Mutford said...

Raidergirl's review here.

Nikki in Niagara said...

I felt the same way when I read it. It's like a whole new type of book that no one has a name for yet. I'm also hoping he writes another one.

Nan said...

I adored this book, and wrote about it:

(sorry, I haven't figured out the 'here' way of linking yet. someone tried to explain it but I didn't get it.)

John Mutford said...

Nan: Thanks.

Nicola's review here.