what i'm reading, children's books edition: # 8: the invention of hugo cabret

In the aftermath of the flood and with our impending move, when I'm not dealing with those events, all I want to do is read and blog. If you enjoy my "what i'm reading" posts, you'll be happy. If not...

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I've long wanted to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Now that Martin Scorsese has adapted it into the movie "Hugo," I wanted to make sure I read it before seeing the film.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a wonderfully inventive and engaging book. It combines elements of picture books, graphic novels, and even flip books within the "chapter book" format for older children. It's a big, fat book - which itself has appeal for many readers - but roughly half the pages are filled with black-and-white pencil illustrations. These are pencil drawings, also by Selznick.

Typically, a group of illustrations form a sequence of images, first seen from a distance, then zooming in closer, and still closer. Because of this technique, many people describe the book as having a movie-like quality. Here's an example:

Unlike in conventional chapter books, where illustrations echo or amplify some action already explained in the text, the illustrations in Hugo Cabret are used to move the story forward, like this:
One night, the old guard in the museum forgot that Hugo’s father was up in the attic, and he locked the door, trapping him inside. Hugo had no way of knowing what happened next.

No one knows how the fire started, but it rushed through the whole building in minutes.
I love these wonderful illustrations and the way they are used, but they're not even the best part of the book. The writing is simple, precise, and elegant. The plot is twisting and convoluted, full of suspense and surprises. For the more sophisticated reader, the book is also playfully self-referential: a magical book about magic (which also features books about magic), a movie-like book about the magic of film, a mystery about missing pieces. It is set in 1931 Paris, so it's peppered with elements of history and place.

This is a beautiful, daring, exciting, suspenseful, charming, and sometimes profound book. Highly recommended.

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