The Invention of Hugo Cabret has 526 pages, and, in front of my own eyes, I have seen a child (one of those annoyingly loud, obnoxious, look-at-what-I-can-do types) brandish it in their friend’s face, bragging that they read the WHOLE thing.
You may be wondering how it’s possible for a book of this enormity/size/weight to be read in its entirety by a small child. Well, over 250 pages are pictures. Beautiful, wondrous illustratrions sketched by the author and illustrator (and visual storyteller extraordinaire), Brian Selznick. Inspired by the story of early filmmaker Georges Méliès, Selznick, with a blend of historical fact, illustration, and film stills, tells the story of Hugo Cabret. The pictures are haunting, inspiring, and meaningful — I know everything that’s happening, and can feel every emotion the characters are feeling, simply by looking into their eyes. This is, undoubtedly, the best children’s book I have read all year, and the #1 Kids Lit Comfort book of 2011.
It is 1931.
The book opens by inviting the reader to imagine that they are at the movies, about to witness a spectacle. And you do, as the story begins. 30 pages later, there is still no text, but you have a clear and distinct idea of exactly what happened. The illustrations have filled in the blanks. There is a picture of the moon, then an aerial depiction of Paris — it’s nighttime in Paris. Hugo enters a secret passageway, watching a mysterious old man selling toys at a stand. The text finally begins with, “From his perch behind the clock, Hugo could see everything.”
Hugo Cabret is an orphan, clock-keeper, and occasional thief — out of necessity, of course. With his wayward, careless uncle, who is constantly disappearing, 12-year old Hugo lives a secret life in the walls of a busy Paris train station (from historical details revealed later in the book, the station is Gare Montparnasse). His father, having recently passed away, was the station’s clock-keeper, a position that Hugo resumes after his death. With Hugo is an automaton that his father rescued. Hugo believes that, once repaired, it will write a message that his father had for him — a message that will save his life. Hugo sets to work on the automaton, but things get complicated with the intrusion of the station inspector, meeting Isabelle, stealing from the elderly shopkeeper, and a long line of mysteries.
The novel is wonderfully innovative, highly imaginative, and completely endearing. A true genius.
Kirkus Reviews calls it “an homage to early filmmakers as dreamers…elegantly designed to resemble the flickering experience of silent film melodramas.”
It deserves all the attention it has received, and I recommend you all experience it!
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a quick read, and one you won’t forget.
It won the Caldecott Prize, and is soon to be a film entitled HUGO, starring Sasha Baron Cohen and directed by Martin Scorsese. Watch the trailer below: