~by Brian Selznick
2007 Quill Award Winner
2008 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
2008 Book Sense Book of the Year Award Winner
2008 Caldecott Medal Winner
The Invention of Hugo Cabret tended to catch my attention whenever I saw it on the shelf, but it wasn't until now that I actually picked it up to read. It's not often a tome of such size is published for younger readers. The book clocks in at well over five hundred pages, but nearly three hundred of those are original illustrations. So, it is much less daunting than it first appears--for the reader, at least. I can only imagine the amount of effort the author and illustrator, Brain Selznick, put into this "novel in words and pictures." The Invention of Hugo Cabret truly is an impressive achievement.
Hugo Cabret is a young orphan living in a Paris train station in the early 1930s. He steals to survive--bottles of milk, warm croissants, even small mechanical toys from the toymaker's booth. Hugo lives in the walls of station, caring for all its clocks like his uncle showed him to and hiding from the station inspector. But when he is caught by the bitter toymaker, Hugo and the secrets he keeps are put in jeopardy. Using illustrations to help tell the story directly, Selznick has created a wonderful tale of mystery. It is historical fiction of the best kind and can be appreciated by younger and older readers alike.
Oh, and what exactly the invention is is revealed at the end of the book; it certainly put a smile on my face. However, Hugo's devotion to secrecy can be a little frustrating at times. Although the story is a delight in its own right, what really impresses is the use, quantity, and quality of the artwork. Selznick uses real-life people as models for the inspiration of the look of his characters. This allows him to be unerringly consistent in their portrayal, even when their general appearance has substantially changed. The original illustrations are executed in pencil while black and white stills from early films and sketchbooks are also included when appropriate to the story. The interplay between the illustrations, images, and text is expertly executed--the prose describing what can't be seen and the art describing what can. Occasionally, the text to illustration ratio seemed a bit off, but for the most part the story flowed beautifully.
The book is stunning and the illustrations are gorgeous. In some ways, it was like a silent film (complete with a dramatic chase sequence) only in book form. As any historical fiction should do, The Invention of Hugo Cabret whet my appetite for investigating the time period and subject matter further. Fortunately, Selznick has provided a good starting point with his "Acknowledgements" and "Credits" sections at the end of the book. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a heartwarming story and the work well deserves the Caldecott Medal it has been awarded (among all the other awards it has collected). I'm not familiar with Selznick's other books, but if The Invention of Hugo Cabret serves as any sort of an example, he's definitely an author and illustrator to follow.