Tuesday, February 24, 2009

REVIEW: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Selznick, B. (2007). The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York: Scholastic Press.


This Caldecott winner redefined what a picturebook is. Over five hundred pages long, The Invention of Hugo Cabret interweaves illustrations and text to create deeper meaning, many deeper meanings. Set in Paris in the 1930s, Hugo Cabret is an orphan living in the walls of the city’s train station, winding the clocks after his alcoholic uncle has disappeared. Involving magicians, silent films, dreams, trains, imagination and family, this books seeks to show the interconnections among various objects and people to create meaning and a fabulous invention.

While working in a museum, Hugo’s father, also a watchmaker, had discovered a mechanical man that a magician would have used to impress audiences in a show. The watchmaker becomes obsessed with trying to repair the machine. After his father dies in a fire, Hugo is taken in by his uncle and decides to take up his father’s work on the mechanical man, guided only by his father’s old notebook. That is, until the notebook is taken by an angry old shop owner in the train station. Having caught Hugo stealing mechanical parts, the old man takes the notebook from Hugo. To regain it, Hugo must partner with the goddaughter of the old man.

The book is split into two parts, in similar fashion to how some older movies contained two acts.

I have read this book three times. Each rereading has revealed more connections among the various elements of the text. Despite this, it is the presence of the illustrations that make this story extraordinary.

Activities to do with the book:

This is a wonderful book to share with students to encourage them to seek connections and make meaning of the text.

Since the book is so huge, but also consists of so many illustrations and pages only half-filled by text, it can bolster young or struggling readers’ confidence in their ability to read.

This book could be used to trigger lessons about Western culture in the 1930s. Students could research the history of movies, trains, magic shows, and even the rise of the Nazi party.

Favorite Quotes:

“I want you to picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie. On screen, the sun will soon rise, and you will find yourself zooming toward a train station in the middle of the city” (Introduction).

“But another story begins, because stories lead to other stories, and this one leads all the way to the moon“ (p. 255).

“If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from when you go to sleep at night, just look around. This is where they are made” (387).

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