Bewilderview: The Invention of Hugo Cabret!!!

Because, as we all know, I’m a muddle-head with no time to read actual books this year, I’ve asked the lovely Brianne Farley (a woman I met through blog-comments) to step in and pick up the slack. And Brianne has done just that!

So here, for the first time, a Bewilderview!  A guest-blogger reviewing a book for children,  (and being sucked into the Kidlitosphere forever. Mwahahaha!  What do you think she’ll call her *own* blog when she starts one next week? Hmmm?)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Brian Selznick

While the first thing one notices about Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret is the size (over 2 inches thick and 533 pages), it is not the most remarkable quality.  Selznick’s tome is a well-researched, genre-crossing beauty that, in the tradition of Roald Dahl and maybe J.K. Rowling, asks a bit more of its audience then does the average young-adult fiction.

Hugo Cabret, the orphaned son of a Parisian clockmaker, is living in the walls of a train station in 1931.  Here, he fixes the clocks and attempts to repair an automaton—an intricate, clockwork man—his father was working on when he died.  The automaton leads him to a strange relationship with the owner of the train station’s toyshop.  This man is revealed to be Georges Mèliés, the magician-turned-filmmaker most famous for Le Voage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), who brought the dream world to life in then-new media of the motion picture.

Selznick’s tale is a captivating mix of words, illustration, photographs, and Mèliés’ drawings and film stills.  While the book remains in keeping with many conventions of the genre—Hugo is an orphan and a thief, he defies authority, and he values imagination—Hugo Cabret pushes the boundaries of traditional picture books and winds up straddling the border of graphic novel and historical fiction.  And it makes one ask, why?  Why did Selznick choose to tell this particular tale as a children’s picture book?

The subject, for one, is appropriate.  Georges Mèliés was the ultimate boundary-pusher of his time and media, and it is incredible that Selznick has chosen to highlight a spectacular and obtuse artistic rabble-rouser for a new generation, one that might not have discovered him while angst-ing with the Smashing Pumpkins.  At the end of his book, Selznick points the reader to a website about Mèliés and a YouTube video of a 19th Century automaton that writes poetry and draws ships—truly catering to a tech-savvy generation.  The book, in other words, asks the reader to research this nearly-real tale on his/her own; the setting, the cinematographer, and the automaton are all there for a reader to explore.

What I, personally, would like to applaud Selznick for is his faith in his audience, those open minds that are not yet attached to hard-edged genres, and that are ready to scoot a little further out of fantasy and into world.  I would like to think that he chose his genre, and the manipulation of it, with this goal in mind.  I would like to think he is breeding future artistic rabble-rousers.

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One Response to “Bewilderview: The Invention of Hugo Cabret!!!”

  1. Brianne Says:

    Hi Laurel!

    I don’t know if I ever got a chance to send you this link, but you inspired me to start my own blog! It’s children’s book reviews, with an unabashed bent toward illustration.
    See you there!

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