Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Book Review

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

We were at the library and my son was busy playing computer games instead of finding books to borrow. From time to time he resists getting more books, yet when he finds something he likes, there's no stopping him from reading.

But he doesn't like having to look for new books.

I finally decided that if I find him playing games at the library and he hasn't picked out any books, he has to accept two of the books I find for him.  Yes, he started to object, but then he realized that the pressure of finding new books was lifted a bit, since I was essentially pushing some suggestions on him.  He just had to select two.

Enter Hugo Cabret.

I was browsing through the children's section at the library while the boy played games, and I spotted Hugo on the cart near the librarian's desk.  It had a Caldecott Winner sticker on the front.  That's usually an enticement for me, but this was already different than most Caldecott winners.  This "picture book" was thick.

Three inches thick.

Something clicked.  Did we just see a movie preview in the theater about an upcoming movie involving an invention and a kid?

I liked the cover (yes, I just said that) and it included the word "invention", so I picked it up and added it to The Boy's pile of books.

Then my daughter arrived.

She took one look at The Invention of Hugo Cabret and said, "That's a good book!"

Well, that was good enough for me to encourage the boy to get it.

And then I asked her, "Did we see a movie preview about something like this when we were at the theater?"

"Yes, this is the book.  They are making a movie about it."

Good.  The preview had looked interesting.  From what I could recall.

I still didn't really know anything about it or the book.

After getting home, I noticed that The Boy was flipping through Hugo.  I could see some of the pictures from a distance.  Clearly, my son was interested.

He read it in no time flat.

Sometime the next day, I heard The Boy say, "Yeah, that is a good book."

Now, I was truly intrigued.  I had to find out about this book.  I had to read it.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This is an outstanding children's book.  It is unique and engaging.  It is so different from anything I've ever read before.

This is a novel told in both words and pictures.  It is not quite a "picture book", and yet it is.  The pictures are vital to telling a large part of the story.  All of the pictures are done in pencil.  This "black, white, and shades of gray" view of the story is quite appropriate to the plot.

The plot tells of a boy's struggle to survive, in spite of difficult circumstances. The setting is unique and is firmly set in the specific time period. While this is a book written for children, there is more to the plot than what appears at first glance.  There are a few complexities and unexpected twists.  This is especially nice for the older children and adults reading.  Nothing gets too complicated, but it certainly held my interest throughout.

The characters are painted a bit thinly, but this isn't really surprising.  The plot and the pictures drive this story along.  The setting is prominent in both the telling and showing of the story.  The black and white drawings add to the sense of age, some time in the past.  Color would have detracted from the feeling of looking back in time.

The author has done a good job of presenting actual events and movies of the time.  This made me wonder about the authenticity of some of the things in the book while I was reading it.  The afterword explains that these parts were true and that our supporting character was in fact a real person.  The rest of the story is fiction.  I found this blend of fact and fiction intriguing. I liked it. I liked the way they were melded together and it left me wondering about it.

This is so much more than a children's book.  This is so much more than a picture book.  This is a fascinating book that everyone should read, children and adults alike.  I really enjoyed it, and both of my children did too!  Check it out!


  1. I agree! It is a wonderful book for all ages!

  2. its awesome. the pictures are wonderful too. every kid should experience brian selznick's books, including wonderstruck. another one of his books.


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