Thursday, November 20, 2008
The Invention of Hugo Cabret Book Review by ChristineMM
Title: The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Author: Brian Selznick
Illustrator: Brian Selznick
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Publication: Scholastic Press, January 2007
Format: Hardcover book
Note: This was the 2008 winner of The Caldecott Medal
Summary Statement: An Experience, Not “Just” a Book; BRILLIANT!
My Rating: 5 stars out of 5
This book is nothing less than brilliant.
To read this book is an EXPERIENCE that goes above and beyond what previously I considered reading to be. This is not your typical book. The reader experiences this book; they do not just read this book in the usual manner.
This is not a traditional children’s book filled with words. This is not a purely graphic novel told comic book style with bubbles of dialogue, nor is it a graphic book filled only with wordless images. The author plays with the storytelling medium, using a combination of pages filled with only illustration alternating with pages of text. The illustrations don’t compliment the text as is typical with most children’s books; instead the illustrations actually take the place of the text and tell the story. You can’t ignore the illustrations as you can with some other books as you’d miss some of the story, the reader has to rely on the illustration to tell that portion of the story. You won’t want to rush through or ignore the illustrations, because the pencil drawings are very well done and the tones set the mood and even convey action (which surprised me as most of my reading has been with text-only books). I was repeatedly surprised when the page was turned and an illustration was there informing me of the action, instead of words. Additionally, the timing of the page turning and the spacing of the text on the page create a tension and add to the suspense and action. While my eyes wanted to rush ahead to read the next words, I had to wait and turn the page to reveal what would happen next.
This book is something superior and fantastic that the term “juvenile fiction book” just does not describe adequately. I don’t think the book publishing industry has a word for a book like this yet. To my knowledge there is no other book quite like this on published for children (and adults like me who enjoy reading children’s books). I can only hope that more well-written books will be published like this and then the book publishing industry will have to invent a new name for what this is!
This is definitely a book that anyone (young or old) can easily step into and escape into the story. It hooks you in, and the fast pace and steady action creates a roller coaster ride that makes the reader not want to put the book down until it is finished.
For those reasons this is a perfect book for reluctant readers, especially boys. If this story can’t pull a reader in then I don’t know one that will.
Some notes about the book’s layout are worth noting as some customers will find these worthy reasons to consider buying this book. There is a good amount of white space on many pages and the pages have a black border. Although most people may not care about either of those things, they are relevant as it is said that particular layout helps children with a visual processing learning disorder, those with an eye tracking problem. It also is said to help dyslexic children, who can for some reason, read words on a page when there is a border around the edge of the page. The book is thick and imposing to young readers, yet the story can be read quickly and this may help some children who have a fear of reading a book that is thick or who may think they are incapable of reading a heavy hard cover book.
As to what kind of kids may like this book, the subject of an invention and a robotic man told in a suspenseful way is appealing to many young boys who don’t often find those subjects (robots, inventions) in fiction books, but of course, kids who like robots and inventors would be drawn to the book. Since a girl is the secondary character, girls may like this book also. Actually this is the type of book that readers will enjoy even if they usually don’t have a personal interest in that topic, similar, for example, to those of us who may enjoy a movie drama set in a sports team when we are not passionate about that sport. That is because a good story touches our heart and reels us in. (I would not be surprised if someone wants to make a movie adaptation of this story.)
Besides the enjoyment of the story, beyond the excitement and the pleasure of reading it, there are worthwhile themes in the book. Finding one’s purpose in life and doing work that one loves instead of work to pay the bills is one of them. A good work ethic is promoted (early stealing receives negative consequences and is not glorified). The negativity that can come when one stifle’s one’s creativity, how art made by one person can influence and inspire others in their own creative path and can segue into their life’s work is in the book. Valuing a child who is mechanically inclined and good with his hands is seldom a trait in children’s literature, but it is in this story. The value of reading books in one’s spare time for pleasure, inspiration, and for learning information is demonstrated throughout. (The drawings of the overloaded stacks in the used book shop will be enjoyed by book lovers.) The fact that self-directed learning outside of school can and does take place with children is an important element in the book. The book also has obvious themes of trust, generosity, friendship and unconditional love. The value of a formal education as well as learning outside of school and following one’s passion in life is underscored.
The book is based on some real facts but the characters and the information about the creator of the automaton are purely fictional, as is explained in the end notes. There is a link in the end note to view videos on the Internet of the original automaton which was built in the year 1810! The book also touches on filmmaking and the early days of filmmaking. Children with an interest in those subjects may especially enjoy this story as well. Real facts about the history of filmmaking are in the book.
Some who appreciate my book reviews like to hear of content that may be troublesome to their children, especially sensitive children. I understand that no exciting story can exist without some kind of problem; this one has a few that might upset some readers. Amazon prohibits spoilers in customer reviews, so I’ll share general information. This book has two orphaned children, death by fire, and death by drowning, alcoholism, and stealing including forcing the main character to steal. With all that said I need to clarify that much of that is ‘back story’ that is briefly mentioned in the book or the action in the story is so intense that we gloss over new bits of negative information, as they are not delved into deeply enough to elicit a strong reaction of upsetting children (unless the child is very sensitive to those issues). If you worry about this for your child, I would urge you to read the book first, as it is such a great book. Then you can be the judge if the book is appropriate for your child at their present age.
The last thing I’ll share is the book was so loved by my eleven year old son that he fell asleep reading it in bed at night, and finished it in the morning before he got out of bed, so it was finished within a 24 hour window of time. I read the book in about two hours and loved it.
Official website for the book
How this book came to me: I saw this book on display at a university bookstore but I didn't leaf through the pages. I borrowed the book from the library so we could read it. I now wish I owned our own copy, that is how great the book is!
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