Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick- Review

The Invention of Hugo Cabret was on my wishlist of books from the moment it first hit bookshelves. I stumbled upon it on one of my many book store browses and fell in love. I'm not sure how to categorize it. It's sort of a graphic novel, and sort of illustrated story but not really either of these things. Hugo Cabret is an invention of it's own and it's an amazing story telling device.

From the Hugo Cabret website:

ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message all come The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

523 pages of a mix of beautiful pencil illustrations and straight story, The invention of Hugo Cabret reads like a movie. Most of the illustrations don't tell the story, like a graphic novel or story book would, but instead move the story forward to the next part of the writing. Selznick even uses movie devices like zooming in and out on actions, in an almost flip book style, creating this flowing movement for the images of the story. Although I wanted to linger on all the beautiful cross hatching and details I also wanted to flip through the pages at high speeds to watch the images fly by. Needless to say there was lots of back and forthing to enjoy both.

The story itself was a fascinating mix of arcane historical oddities, and character piece. I was most drawn to the intriguing historical aspects, and love that Brian both talks about some of it in his acknowledgments, and goes into the actual history in some depth on his website for those who are interested. It's infrequent that an author challenges readers, especially young ones, with history let alone obscure history, such as the history of film and technology. But Selznick proves it's a magical subject matter, one that will capture your attention and leave you wanting to know more.

I adored the mix, towards the end of the book, of actual photographs and stills of the history he was talking about in the story. A train exploding from the wall of a train station, the still from the Mélès actual films, proof that his wondrously magical story did, in many ways, happen.

The book made me think a lot about some of my wishful imaginings when I was little. There is a beautiful hotel in Saskatoon, The Bessborough, which sits on the river bank and looks like some kind of fairy castle. As a little girl I did a dance performance in one of its ballrooms and was convinced it was a real castle, filled with real royalty hidden away in it's luscious corridors. It was incredibly disappointing when my mom finally explained to me that it was just a fancy hotel, and that in fact it had never been a castle.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is the polar opposite, it presents the reader with these seemingly impossible, totally magical, things- the automata, the train accident, the beautiful films- and then the surprise at the end is that they're all real. I can only imagine how thrilling a discovery that would have been for me as a child, it was thrilling as an adult! But mostly I think about how inspiring those discoveries would be for a child, how it would feed the imagination and actively keep the magic alive. In a world of technology, facts and science, that's a special feat.

We very recently watched the movie as well. Although it's a beautiful tribute to the book, I have to say Selznick illustrated The Invention of Hugo Cabret in such a way that it's more cinematic then the actual film to me.

A book to share, Hugo Cabret is a magical tale for all ages. If you haven't treated yourself yet (it's pricey due to its high quality), make sure you do soon. You won't regret it.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
Published by Scholastic, March 7th 2007
Check out the Hugo Cabret website for all the real history behind the story
Buy The Invention of Hugo Cabret on Amazon


  1. Oh I love Selznick's books. I think at this point, I've elevated him to Favorite Authors and Books status. I agree that the movie can never live up to his illustrations. His story telling is just phenomenal.

  2. I think the book was great ! I loved all the pickers!