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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.)
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Top Customer Reviews
Without Hugo Cabret, none of the clocks in the magnificent Paris train station he lives in would work. Though he's only a kid, Hugo tends to the clocks every day. But there's something even more important in the boy's life than gigantic mechanics. Hugo owns a complex automaton, once his father's, that was damaged in a fire and it is his life's goal to make the little machine work again. To do so, he's been stealing small toys from an old shopkeeper in the station. One day the man catches Hugo in the act, and suddenly the two are thrown together. Coincidences, puzzles, lost keys, and a mystery from the past combine in this complex tale of old and new. The story is told with pictures that act out the action and then several pages of text that describe the plot elements. The final effect is like watching a puzzle work itself into clarity.
Selznick is juggling so many different elements and inspirations in this book that you honestly expect the result to be a muddle. Okay. So you have a story involving old-timey movie-maker Georges Melies (he's the old shopkeeper) whose image in this book was modeled on children's book author Remy Charlip (also an influence). You have an automaton, the history of automatons, and the history of movies themselves. There are photographs of old films mixed in with some bizarre sketches. Then you throw all of this together and add in a story about a boy, a girl, a one-eyed man, toys, keys, and a train station. Boom! Instant book. The fact that this title ISN'T a mess is downright bizarre.
They say that the mark of a good musical depends on how well the songs advance the story's plot. You can't just have your characters burst into song and then act like nothing ever happened. The case could be made too for books like "Hugo Cabret". If there is a picture in this story, it has a purpose. Nothing here was included on a whim. When the book breaks from word to image, it has to be done just right. It has to feel natural. At one point in "Hugo Cabret" our hero is nearly trapped by the Station Inspector. The book reads, "The Station Inspector saw the bandages and loosened his grip, at which point, like a wild animal, Hugo escaped." What follows is a thirty-six page chase sequence that comes across like a black and white film. And the real star of this show, in the end, is Selznick's art. The man is doing things with mood and lighting that give the book just the right mysterious feel. Selznick's pictures are done, for the most part in graphite with plenty of shading involved. At the same time, he knows how to get the viewer involved in what they are seeing. There are moments where the "camera" is zooming in on a particular shot and instantly gets your attention. In the book's opening, we begin with a shot of the moon that pulls back and follows young Hugo. Then suddenly, we see Hugo look over his shoulder and the picture hits you hard. We're on the eighteen or nineteenth page and already we're deeply interested in what we're seeing. We want to know more. Hugo does have some magnificent bags under his eyes at times, and he and the old man's granddaughter Isabelle sometimes look rather similar, but on the whole it's hard to find anything wrong with what Selznick has chosen to place in this book.
Admittedly, not everything works as smoothly as it might. Selznick has to keep everything in this story moving constantly. Nobody wants to see picture after picture of people just sitting around and talking, after all. So really, the downside to this kind of book is that some degree of characterization and description is lost in favor of plot and theme. The kids in this book go from liking one another, to hating, to liking again in a manner that feels a tad awkward. Motivations are sometimes murky, even if they're explained later down the line.
But the allure of this book for kids can't be stressed enough. Selznick is most familiar to children, at this point in time, because of his covers of such Andrew Clements books as "Frindle" and "School Story". When kids see a Selznick cover, they know to grab it. Children who like big thick Harry Potter-sized tomes will pluck the multi-colored "Hugo Cabret" from its shelves without hesitation. Ironically, though, this is a perfect title for reluctant readers. Though the page count will scare off some, those who've been shown the insides will appreciate this unfamiliar form of storytelling. Unlike a graphic novel or a picture book, however, you can't understand "Hugo Cabret" through pictures alone. You can try, I guess, but you end up with a very different tale from the one Selznick has written. The nice thing is that in spite of all the complicated details and influences at work here, the story itself is straightforward and interesting.
Extra kudos for the spine of this title, by the way. Publishing houses too often forget that sometimes the spine of a book is all a customer is ever going to see of a title. And if there were a Best Spine of the Year Award, I think I know who the winner might be. The spine and back are of Hugo's face, lit from the side. Just his left eye and part of his cheek are visible on the spine, with the title, author, and publisher information shoved to the bottom. It's haunting. Does haunting sell? You bet your sweet bippy it does.
It's hard to say whether or not this kind of format would work with any other book. Really, it's the fact that so much of "Hugo Cabret"'s plot revolves around black and white movies that allows this book to jump so easily between image and text. If you did something similar with a story about, oh I dunno, a lion in the jungle, it might feel odd. But given Selznick's subject matter and his careful use of both his own illustrations, movie stills, and sketches, the book holds together. The writing is second to the illustrations, but it's still heads and tales better than most of the crummy kidlit you'll stumble across. Sometimes you hold a book in your hands and it feels like a classic from day one. "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" radiates that feeling.
Hugo is a 12-year-old boy strapped with responsibility beyond that which a child should have to shoulder. After his uncle--a hopeless drunk in charge of tending the station's clocks--disappears, Hugo takes it upon himself to maintain the clocks in hopes that his uncle won't be missed and he can keep his dwelling and enjoy the freedom of coming and going, living within the walls, and repairing an artifact cherished by both Hugo and his late father. The artifact at the center of the tale is a forgotten automaton discovered among the dust and rot of a museum storage room. It is a mechanical man, pen in hand, poised to deliver a message; Hugo feels certain that if he can repair the automaton by using his late father's notes, the mechanical man will write a message from beyond the grave. Hugo resorts to stealing toys from the toy booth in the train station, and soon finds himself working off his debt to the shopkeeper, a man with secrets of his own. What follows involves a stolen notebook, an oddly familiar drawing, unlikely friends, the magic of silent film, and a giant in cinema, Georges Melies (the most recognizable of his films being A Trip to the Moon or Le Voyage dans la Lune, 1902).
While the novel largely defies categorization, it closely resembles a silent film in many respects, and fittingly so. In addition to the novel's rich illustrations, Selznick employs photos and movie stills to show the reader his story as opposed to simply telling it. In the tradition of graphic narrative (or sequential art, whatever your term of choice), the illustrations play as integral a role in the overall story as the text. The use of illustrations is hardly gratuitous, for the pictures quite literally take over and carry out the narrative when the text disappears. And, really, who would care if the illustrations were gratuitous? They're gorgeous.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is full of magic...for the child reader, for the adult reader, the film lover, the art lover, for anyone willing to give it a go. If you're scared of the size or the concept, don't be. Open your mind, pour Selznick's creation in, and be reminded of the dream of childhood.
The story lives up to the promise of the packaging. It is immediately engaging and ultimately touching. Hugo is the orphaned son of a clock-maker, living in the walls behind a Parisian train station, maintaining the station's clocks, stealing bread and milk to survive, stealing nuts, bolts, and gears to complete a project his father was working on when he died. His secret existence is threatened as his life becomes entwined with a bitter, old man and a bookish young girl. It's part graphic novel, part mystery, part coming-of-age. There are echoes of Pinocchio but with a twist as here it is a lonely boy building an automaton father figure.
This is a timeless book about, among other things, time. This is a book for the ages, and a book for all ages. The story, the artwork, the writing style, the overall design, all first rate parts of a greater whole, like the precisely crafted mechanism of a fine Swiss clock.