Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Want to feel like a kid again for a few hours? Find a copy of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and allow yourself to be carried away into a world of secrets, film, clocks, and machines. It's not easy to describe what the book is about, but the inside flap says it perfectly:

“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 together…in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

This 526-page book is told in both words and pictures. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things. Each picture (there are nearly three hundred pages of pictures!) takes up an entire double page spread, and the story moves forward because you turn the pages to see the next moment unfold in front of you.”

I've read only a handful of graphic novels and couldn't tell you the last time I picked up a children's book (my 'babies' are 16), but this review at Ready When You Are, C.B. convinced me to find a copy of The Invention of Hugo Cabret right away. The book is aimed at 9 to 12 year olds, but I think it would actually appeal to a much wider audience. My teenage nephews would love this!

A couple quotes I especially liked:
"Did you ever notice that all machines are made for some reason?" he asked Isabelle. "They are built to make you laugh, like the mouse here, or to tell the time, like the clocks, or to fill you with wonder, like the automaton. Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do." (page 374)
"Even if all the clocks in the station break down, thought Hugo, time won't stop. Not even if you really want it to." (page 378)
And a couple of the drawings:

The size of this 500+ page hardcover "children's" book initally shocked me, but that quickly passed as I lost myself behind the walls of that Paris train station. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is pure fun at any age!


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed this! The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a book unlike anything else that's published right now. Selnick is so talented. I can't wait to see what else he comes up with.

    Have you read anything by Shaun Tan? He's another author/illustrator that is immensely talented.

  2. Selnick has a great website that explains the references in his book, if you're interested!

  3. Both of those quotes are really beautiful! I've long been thinking that I should try reading graphic novels, especially since I keep hearing about great ones.

  4. Isn’t the art work outstanding???? I loved this book and enjoyed every single moment I spent reading it! So glad that you enjoyed it too!!!

  5. Such an amazing book! One of my favorite books of last year.

  6. This sounds wonderful! This book sounds like a keeper.

  7. Such a cool book. I've given it to a couple of nephews, but would love to read it myself. Someday. Lovely quotes and pictures.

  8. I came from third-story window. Enjoyed your blog and see that you are reading Pat Conroy. Will be interested to see what you think. Have you read his other books?

  9. I have seen this one in the shops and was going to buy it for being such a gorgeous looking book - but now that the actual content sounds great too it might be harder to stay away!

  10. My daughter actually has this book, a gift from our book-loving Uncle Kevin. I flipped through it, and the illustrations are amazing. On some rainy day, I just need to sit down and read it!

  11. I loved this book! Even my 4 year old loves looking at the pictures, so it really is a book for all ages!

  12. I really loved this, too. When I wrote about it:


    someone left a comment suggesting The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

    I bought it and it looks fantastic, but I haven't read it yet.

  13. I tried reading this with my daughter a while ago, but it just didn't catch her attention. Maybe I should give it another shot or just read it by myself.

  14. I have been meaning to read this for so long! I don't know why I haven't, as it sounds right up my alley. Excellent review!

  15. I'm glad you liked this one. I found it beautiful. I am off to visit Selnick's website!

  16. Amazing, isn't it? And maybe the longest ever Caldecott winner. But not sure about that. The kids I give this book to are mesmerized by it and those detailed, nuanced illustrations. And I am more than a bit taken with it as well. Keep finding excuses to re-read. I will become an adult one day.

  17. Hummmm....I'm not sure how I would like this book, as I never got into graphic novels.

  18. Vasilly - I haven't heard of Shaun Tan, but I'm going to look him up now. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Rhapsodyinbooks - Thank you. I spent a little time checking out the website today.

    Dana- This is really more like a picture book than a graphic novel. One of my favorite graphic novels, Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs, may be a good place to start.

    Staci - The artwork was just gorgeous!!

    Raidergirl3 - This was so different from what I usually read... I loved the change of pace.

    Mrs. B. - I'm sorry this was from the library and not my own copy.

    DS- I'm going to give this to my 11 year old nephew. I don't think you'd regret spending a few hours with Hugo Cabret!

    Midlife Jobhunter - Thanks for visiting! Have just started Pat Conroy's new book, but won't post a review until the blog tour in April. Beach Music is one of my all-time favorites (need to reread it soon) and I loved Prince of Tides, too.

  19. Karen - You could always 'preview' a library copy!

    Sandy- If it's already in your house, then there's no excuse not to read it ;-)

    Jackie (Farmlanebooks) - I knew this would appeal to a much wider age range! So glad to hear even a 4 year old can find something to love here.

    Nan - Thanks for the link to your review! I will also look up The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet.

    Carolsnotebook - I think you should just read it yourself. This seemed, at least to me, to be a 'boys' book in many respects. Your daughter may appreciate it another time.

    Nymeth - I don't think you'd regret spending a few hours with this one!

    Gavin - It really was beautiful. I'm sorry it took me so long to discover Hugo Cabret.

    Frances - I was wondering if it might be the longest Caldecott winner! No hurry to become an adult ;-)

    Diane - This is really more picture book than graphic novel. Go ahead and give it a try... it'll only take a couple of hours.

    Marie - I think you'll really like Hugo Cabret!

  20. The illustrations are gorgeous and your review has me envisioning a movie already! I wouldn't hesitate to read this myself at this very moment...but oh to have had it when I was ten. Delightful.

  21. This sounds as enthralling as a Roald Dahl book. Very imaginative.

  22. Oh no! This is so absolutely going on my wish list! Wow.

  23. I'd love to feel like a kid again for a few hours! Thanks for the recipe for youth ;)

  24. Darlene - With so many wonderful children's books out there, it's a great time t be a kid! I'd love to share this one with my nephew...

    Paul Cornies - You're right! Now why didn't I think of Roald Dahl?

    Beth F - Hope you come across this soon. What a great way to spend an evening!

    Stacybuckeye - lol... a recipe for youth!

  25. Sounds really lovely. The illustrations look beautiful and the story sounds genuinely fun and interested. I also love the idea of blending all different kinds of media in the telling of the story. So original - and it seems like it's also really rewarding.

  26. Justicejenniferreads - Hugo Cabret is so different from anything I've read.. very creative! It was such an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

  27. I wholeheartedly agree with your recommendation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I think it is fantastic for several reasons.

    First, the story is gripping. Selznick tactfully maintains reader curiosity throughout the book, first by giving us questions about Hugo (Why is he alone? Why does he live in a train station? How does he survive? Why is he stealing toys? Why is he so passionate about the automaton? Will he successfully repair it?), and then once we are invested in Hugo as a character, by giving us questions about the other characters in the story (Isabelle, Papa Georges), and how the story will come out.

    Another great thing about the book is that it raises and addresses deep themes that are central to coming of age. For example, the book addresses head-on the theme of loss. All of the characters in the book are coping with loss. The story shows, in an age-appropriate way, both the genuine anguish that comes with loss, and also a way through loss in restorative relationships with others. The book also tackles the theme of life-purpose--as your quote about the purpose of machines suggests--a theme that will engage young readers beginning to wonder about their place in the world.

    Of course the book is extraordinarily creative, and I could go on about other aspects of it, but, all that to say, I think you are right on in endorsing this one!

  28. Aaron Mead - Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. There are so many reasons to recommend The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Several members of my book club have read it since this review was posted - they all loved it, too.


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