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Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. Scholastic, 2007. $27.50 ages 9 and up

“As I look out at all of you gathered here, I want to say that I don't see a room full of Parisians in top hats and diamonds and silk dresses. I don't see bankers and housewives and store clerks. No. I address you all tonight as you truly are: wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, and magicians. You are the true dreamers.”

I don't often take the time to reread a book. My TBR pile just keeps growing rather than getting any smaller. But, I loved Hugo the first time and I was determined that I would read it again before I got the chance to see the movie! Since I have no idea when the movie will reach our theatres, I will just savor that repeated experience until I see how Martin Scorcese (with input from Brian Selznick) envisions Hugo and his world. Truthfully, I can hardly wait...I am looking at it as an early Christmas gift!

What an amazing book this is! And what a surprise to the reading world, and to children's literature specialists when it won the Caldecott medal in 2008. Many thought of it as a novel; but, is it a novel, or is it a picture book, or is it graphica? There will always be differing opinions about that. What does it really matter?

Brian Selznick honors French filmmaker Georges Méliès and his early 20th century movies, with his black and white illustrations that are as integral to the telling as the words he writes. This is adventure at its best. Hugo is a twelve, living on his own in a train station, maintaining all of its clocks (a trade he has learned from his uncle), and trying to survive. He steals what food he can, and manages to stay under the radar of the station inspector and the merchants of the station. He wonders at the world as he watches it from behind one of his clocks:

“Sometimes I come up here at night, even when I'm not fixing the clocks, just to look at the city. I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.”

Hugo's father is dead. Prior to his death, he and Hugo had been working on reconstructing an automaton. Now, Hugo is obsessed with returning it to working order. He uses a toy shop, with its many gears and repair parts, to help him with needed elements to complete his work. When he is caught by the toymaker while stealing from him,  Hugo sets a chain of events in motion that lead to the discovery that the old filmmaker Georges Méliès is alive. He also meets Isabelle, the toymaker's young goddaughter. She becomes a foe, and finally an ally as the pair seek truth and understanding about their lives.

The plot is complex and handled with dexterity and aplomb. The characters, the events past and present, the intricacies of their convergent paths are dramatic and mysterious. Yet, it works like a charm! There is mystery, charged adventure in the chase scenes, movie history, and wondrous storytelling. Secrets, inventions and dreams find their place in its pages and in our hearts:

“In that moment, the machinery of the world lined up. Somewhere a clock struck midnight, and Hugo's future seemed to fall perfectly into place.”

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