The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Brian Selznick, Brian. (2007). The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  New York:  Scholastic Press.  534 pages, hard cover.  ISBN-10:  0-439-81378-6.

A Caldecott Medal winner – most distinguished U.S. children’s picture book, Selznick’s Invention is more than pretty pictures alone.  It is also more than a story about a young orphan named Hugo who keeps the clocks running in a busy Paris train station.  Selznick’s story is historical fiction at its finest.

**Spoiler Alert** – sorry.  There is no other way.

Have you ever heard of the French filmmaker Melies?  He is remembered for his innovative films dating from 1896 to 1914.  He developed the technique of substitution, used multiple exposures, time-lapses, dissolves, and hand painted colour.  Filmmaking was like magic in his hands.

Selznick, while creating his own “silent film” on paper, uses his protagonist, Hugo, to introduce the reader to Melies.  His narrator stands at the front of the theatre and sets the scene, “[…] picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie […].”  You can almost hear the sound of the film as it passes through the reel.  Each page is bordered with black and the images are all black and white – just like they would be in a film of this era.

If you weren’t interested in graphic fiction before, you will be after looking into this book.  It is not only for children.  It is a study of art – the cross-hatch technique of drawing.  It is a study of story-telling – the plot progresses logically and keeps the reader’s interest.  You want to know what happens next.  It is also a study in historical fiction – it takes the reader back to 1931 and magically entices you into the world of silent film.

Graphic fiction is often thought to be a way to promote reading amongst those who would rather not and while that may be one good use for this book, I think it would appeal to children, artists, filmmakers, story-tellers, and historians alike.

Enjoy!

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