This blog is a continuation of a class assignment for the TWU course 5603, Literature for Children and Young Adults. Subsequent entries are for TWU course 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. The new entries are for TWU course 5663, Poetry for Children and Young Adults.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret By Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick

Selznick, Brian. 2007. THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET. Scholastic Press. ISBN-13: 978-0439813785

Plot Summary
Hugo Cabret makes his way through the walls and tunnels of a Paris train station, seeking desperately to remain hidden from the eyes of all. Hugo, orphaned after the tragic death of his father in a fire at a museum, is alone again when the uncle who took him in fails to return from an evening of drinking. Afraid of being sent to an orphanage, Hugo keeps up the pretense of his uncle still being there by maintaining the clocks of the train station in his absence. Hugo has learned the clockworks trade from his family, and is himself quite adept at the intricacies of the minute workings of the cogs and gears. Hugo focuses much of his energy on refurbishing an automaton that his father had admired at the museum, convinced that it will somehow reveal a message to him from his father.

Along the way through this intricately woven tale, a cast of characters with a connection to Hugo’s mission enter the scene and become part of the unfolding drama. Georges and Jeane Melies, Isabelle, Etienne, and the Station Inspector all play roles in this story that intertwines Hugo’s personal tragedies with the early days of movie making. As the curtain closes on Hugo’s story the reader is let in on a little secret about its creation….  

Critical Analysis
Hugo Cabret is first introduced to the reader in an opening textual scene set, then comes to life for the reader through a series of elaborate pencil drawings on the proceeding pages. It is not until page 46 that the reader is provided text to add meat to the already intriguing story of a boy who seeks to exist as close to invisible as possible in a Paris train station in 1931. From the brief introduction to the very last page, the reader is captivated by the unique format that seamlessly intermingles entrancing artwork with absorbing text. This technique is uncommon and hypnotizing at the same time.  The text serves to fill in the blanks for the illustrations, such as the thoughts and memories of the characters, which play heavily into the storyline. This format is immediately appealing to everyone I have encountered. My fifth grade students are at first intimidated by the length (525 pages) but quickly feel drawn to tackle it, enthralled by the mix of illustrations and text. My own teenage children were tickled to find such a combination.

The artwork in this distinctive book is stunning. I do not favor pencil drawings, but the intricacies are so alluring the reader can spend great amounts of time combing through the details. I often found myself turning back to certain illustrations while reading the text to determine if details revealed in the writing were actually in the illustrations but had been overlooked. I found that I had missed some critical details from time to time. This discovery serves to challenge readers to pore over subsequent illustrations with greater intensity. Dubbed “A Novel in Words and Pictures” by author/illustrator Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a masterpiece, skillfully demonstrating that there is something new under the sun: stunning artwork that is as essential to the telling of this tale as the printed word.

Review Excerpts
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Here is a true masterpiece—an artful blending of narrative, illustration and cinematic technique, for a story as tantalizing as it is touching. To Selznick’s credit, the coincidences (in the book) all feel carefully orchestrated; epiphany after epiphany occurs before the book comes to its sumptuous, glorious end. Selznick hints at the toymaker’s hidden identity […] through impressive use of meticulous charcoal drawings that grow or shrink against black backdrops, in pages-long sequences. The plot ultimately has much to do with the history of the movies, and Selznick’s genius lies in his expert use of such a visual style to spotlight the role of this highly visual media. A standout achievement. Ages 9-12. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.    Review retrieved from

“It’s wonderful. Take that overused word literally: ‘Hugo Cabret’ evokes wonder.” — New York Times Book Review

“A true masterpiece.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review
 “Fade to black and cue the applause!” — Kirkus, starred review
 “Complete genius.” — The Horn Book Magazine, starred review
 “Breathtaking.” — School Library Journal, starred review
 “An original and creative integration of art and text.” — The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

additional reviews retrieved from

Awards and Honors:
Winner of the 2007 Caldecott Medal
2007 National Book Award Finalist
2008 ALA Best Book for Young Adults
ALA Notable Book for Middle Readers
2008 IRA Teachers’ Choices, Intermediate
Book Sense-Book of the Year Award 2008, Children’s Literature
Winner of the 2007 Quill Award, Children’s Chapter/Middle Grade
CCBC Choices 2008, Fiction for Children
Book Sense Children’s Picks – Spring 2007
Horn Book Fanfare List- Best Books of 2007 Fiction
2008 IRA Children’s Choices, Grades 5-6
Kirkus Reviews – Best Children’s Books 2007
Publishers Weekly – Best Children’s Books 2007, Children’s Fiction

*     Reluctant readers will delight in the mixture of text and illustrations. For those who struggle with too many words on a page, but desire the accomplishment of completing a lengthy book, this book is perfect!
*     Encourage discussion on this topic: Which is more powerful- the printed word or the illustration?
*     Students can create their own story, using equal parts text and full-page illustrations.
*     Other books written and/or illustrated by Brian Selznick:
Frindle (Simon & Schuster)
The Landry News (Simon & Schuster)

The School Story (Simon & Schuster)
Lunch Money (Simon & Schuster)
Written by Andrew Clements
Doll Face Has a Party (HarperCollins)

Our House (Scholastic)
Written by Pam Conrad
The Boy Who Longed For a Lift
Written by Norma Farber
Barnyard Prayers (Hyperion)
Written by Laura Godwin
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins

Walt Whitman: Words for America
Written by Barbara Kerley
Marly’s Ghost (Penguin)
Written by David Levithan
The Doll People (Hyperion)

The Meanest Doll in the World (Hyperion)

The Runaway Dolls (Hyperion)
Written by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin
Riding Freedom (Scholastic)

Amelia and Eleanor go for a Ride (Scholastic)

When Marian Sang (Scholastic)
Written by Pam Muñoz Ryan
The Dulcimer Boy (HarperCollins)
Written by Tor Seidler
The Boy of a Thousand Faces (HarperCollins)

The Houdini Box (Simon & Schuster)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic)

The Robot King (HarperCollins)
Written by Brian Selznick
Wingwalker (Hyperion)
Written by Rosemary Wells

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