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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wonderstruck, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. Scholastic, 2011. $29.99 ages 10 and up

"Ben tried to imagine the honking, screaming, screeching soundtrack, but to him it unfolded noiselessly, like a scary movie with the sound turned off. All he could hear in his mind was David Bowie singing about Major Tom."

If you loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret and wondered if you could wait for a new book by this incredible artist, wait  no more. September 13, one week ago, was the release date for Wonderstruck. IT WAS WORTH THE WAIT!!!

I call them illustrated novels and am in awe of Brian Selznick's thinking and process for creating both...

"I thought: Is there a way of combining what the cinema can do with panning, and zooming in and out, and edits, and what a picture book can do with page turns, and what a novel does?"

I guess there is...because he has done it TWICE! His illustrations work just like a camera, following his characters as they make their way from one place to another. He uses his zoom lens to focus on details of facial expression, place and time. It is unusual, and mesmerizing.

In Wonderstruck, he tells two stories and explains it this way:

"I had this idea to try to tell two different stories."
"What if I told one story just with pictures, and then told a completely different story that was set 50 years later with words? And then had these two separate stories weave back and forth until they came together at the end?"

Who else thinks of such things? Not only that; he goes right ahead and does exactly what he planned! He tells his audience the story of Rose and Ben, both of them young when we first meet.  Rose lives in New Jersey in the late 1920s when silent movies are all the rage. Ben lives in Minnesota in the late 1970s, with relatives since the recent death of his mother. 

Rose's story is illustrative. We come to know her in the black-and-white artwork that Selznick so carefully and powerfully constructs. Her story alternates with Ben's, which is written in novel form. Their worlds do have connections. Rose is deaf, and Ben completely loses his hearing during a summer thunderstorm when he is struck by lightning. Each of them is caught in a storm. They both go looking for a parent, Rose for her mother and Ben for his father. They find solace and shelter in the Museum of Natural History in New York. They know about Kincaid's Book Store. They are enthralled by the Cabinet of Wonders.

Daunting at more than 600 pages, and too beautiful to accurately describe, it is a quick read because of the wondrous illustrated sections. Those sections create such drama and mood for the tale being told. The reader is completely caught up in the action and the characters' development. Brian Selznick constantly adds detail to the art that have readers asking questions, making inferences and providing a stunning reading experience.

If you haven't read Hugo Cabret yet, get to the library and have it on hand. When you are through being Wonderstruck, you will want to continue the magic of this gift to all readers. Bravo, Mr. Selznick!

Don't miss the notes at the back...acknowledgements and bibliography. They will give you some sense of the research that was required to bring this book to publication.

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