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The Invention of Hugo Cabret Hardcover – January 30, 2007
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Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, 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, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the 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 from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.
A Letter from Brian Selznick
When I was a kid, two of my favorite books were by an amazing man named Remy Charlip. Fortunately and Thirteen fascinated me in part because, in both books, the very act of turning the pages plays a pivotal role in telling the story. Each turn reveals something new in a way that builds on the image on the previous page. Now that I’m an illustrator myself, I’ve often thought about this dramatic storytelling device and all of its creative possibilities.
My new book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is a 550 page novel in words and pictures. But unlike most novels, the images in my new book don't just illustrate the story; they help tell it. I've used the lessons I learned from Remy Charlip and other masters of the picture book to create something that is not a exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.
I began thinking about this book ten years ago after seeing some of the magical films of Georges Méliès, the father of science-fiction movies. But it wasn’t until I read a book called Edison's Eve: The Quest for Mechanical Life by Gaby Woods that my story began to come into focus. I discovered that Méliès had a collection of mechanical, wind-up figures (called automata) that were donated to a museum, but which were later destroyed and thrown away. Instantly, I imagined a boy discovering these broken, rusty machines in the garbage, stealing one and attempting to fix it. At that moment, Hugo Cabret was born.
A few years ago, I had the honor of meeting Remy Charlip, and I'm proud to say that we've become friends. Last December he was asking me what I was working on, and as I was describing this book to him, I realized that Remy looks exactly like Georges Méliès. I excitedly asked him to pose as the character in my book, and fortunately, he said yes. So every time you see Méliès in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the person you are really looking at is my dear friend Remy Charlip, who continues to inspire everyone who has the great pleasure of knowing him or seeing his work.
Paris in the 1930's, a thief, a broken machine, a strange girl, a mean old man, and the secrets that tie them all together... Welcome to The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
More from Brian Selznick
The Boy of a Thousand Faces
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.Twelve-year-old orphan Hugo lives in the walls of a Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century, where he tends to the clocks and filches what he needs to survive. Hugo's recently deceased father, a clockmaker, worked in a museum where he discovered an automaton: a human-like figure seated at a desk, pen in hand, as if ready to deliver a message. After his father showed Hugo the robot, the boy became just as obsessed with getting the automaton to function as his father had been, and the man gave his son one of the notebooks he used to record the automaton's inner workings. The plot grows as intricate as the robot's gears and mechanisms [...] To Selznick's credit, the coincidences 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. They display the same item in increasingly tight focus or pan across scenes the way a camera might. 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.
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Good stories are layered. The tale hangs mainly on our protagonist, the orphan Hugo, living within the walls and spaces of a Parisian train station. He has taken on the function of time keeper/clock winder that his now missing uncle once performed. A mysterious mechanical man in disrepair, left to Hugo by his beloved father, becomes the vehicle to join the child to another station character - the crotchety toy merchant who maintains a small shop in the main concourse. Hugo uses pieces from the mechanical toys - which he has stolen from the merchant - to tinker with the mechanical man. Once he is caught, we have the opportunity to learn more about the old man through Hugo's interaction with him and his young niece, Hugo's new friend.
The pivotal character of the station's toy merchant pulls us further into this world when Hugo discovers his past as a magician and as a pioneer with film. By placing the story within a train station, Brian Selznick can tip his hat to some of the groundbreaking first attempts at film which used the same type of venue, as well as the genius of imagination that was set free with this new medium. The great clocks of the station's tower help us remember Harold Loyd, and the trains were the subjects of some of the first films. It is at this point that the use of the black and white illustrations takes on another function, speaking to us about the dramatic way images, without sound and color, can still speak to us so eloquently.
This is one of those special books that has a compelling story that can be read by a young reader, and at the same time can be a bridge to historical events when read by an adult. I chose to explore Hugo Cabret after seeing a trailer for the movie "Hugo." My intention was to pre-screen the book to see if it was appropriate for a great niece's Christmas present. To my surprise, as an adult I was enthralled. And as so often happens, the book's story became a doorway - it led me to trace more information about the earliest experiments with film. The relationship between early film and magicians was a surprise to me. And perhaps as a person living approximately a century after film began, let alone having no memory of a life without it, it is understandable that I had no perspective about the effects of the first films on their viewers - a world of imagination, nightmares and dreams. How strange, magical and wonderful it all must have seemed.
Knowing Scorsese's love of film history, I am now anxious to see how he has brought this book to film to tell both a child's story and to help all of us appreciate the evolution of what we are watching.
The old man in the toy booth was arguing with the girl. She was about Hugo's age, and he often saw her go into the booth with a book under her arm and disappear behind the counter.
The old man looked agitated today. Had he figured out some of his toys were missing? Well, there was nothing to be done about that now.
Hugo needed the toys."
Hugo Cabret is the perfect book to read in bed.
Brian Selznick's dreamy illustrations are the perfect format for this tale of orphans, old movies, train stations and wound down clocks. The charcoal drawings have a nighttime feel. The darkened cinema is a stage set for Hugo, Isabelle and Papa Georges to uncover hidden strengths, secret longings and old desires.
"The idea of going to the movies made Hugo remember something Father had once told him about going to the movies when he was just a boy, when the movies were new. Hugo's father had stepped into a dark room and, on a white screen, he had seen a rocket fly right into the eye of the man in the moon. Father said he had never experienced anything like it. It had been like seeing his dreams in the middle of the day."
Or the night. (Take it to bed with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk.)
Here's a link to the movie trailer: