The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

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The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A book that really stands out from the crowd. Beautiful sequential pencil sketch artwork, a fascinating history of early movies and a rather cool mystery story combine to make a book they'll return to again and again. The writing is perhaps a little weak.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 534 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-1407103488

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Hugo Cabret is a little boy living in a garret in a Parisian railway station in the 1930s. His father died in a fire and he had gone to live with his uncle, who maintains the many clocks in the station. When his uncle disappears, Hugo is left to take care of the clocks alone. Hugo steals toys from the old man's booth on the station concourse. He needs their clockwork parts to help him mend the automaton that his father had been working on before he died. This magical clockwork man is Hugo's raison d'etre. The toy seller, his foster-daughter and Hugo turn out to be connected in ways none of them could ever have guessed.

Based on the true story of Georges Melies, often called the cinemagician, an early film-maker and one of the first people to use multiple exposures and time-lapse photography, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a blend of fact and fiction. Hugo isn't real, but Melies did have a collection of automata which did burn in a fire. He did face financial ruin and run a toy booth in Montparnasse station, and he was rediscovered and honoured by France's Cinema Society and he did make a return to the stage. It's a magical and fascinating story, brought to children through the fictional Hugo.

And it's absolutely gorgeous. This is the kind of book I'd have loved to own as a child. I'd have returned to it over and over, just to check my favourite pages and look for a new word, a new detail, a new insight. I'd have cherished it and kept it long past the time I'd outgrown it. Some books are special, aren't they? And The Invention of Hugo Cabret is special. It's a huge brick of a book, and I suppose this might prove initially daunting for some children, but book lovers will jump upon it immediately. And once inside, the less confident reader will find the true challenge is in putting it down, not in picking it up.

The sequential illustrations are beautiful; rough pencil sketches that resemble charcoal, some with lots of detail and something new to be noticed on each look, and some in close up with strong emotions that reach out and grab you. The old movie stills are well-chosen and utterly arresting. The narrative is strong and interesting and Hugo, a Dickensian orphan kind of character, is tremendously engaging. The writing itself is perhaps a little weaker than the book's other elements, but when the whole is attractive as this, you feel churlish for mentioning it. However, in truth the writing isn't the best. It's clear and straightforward and it carries the narrative, but it doesn't reach the emotional subtleties of the illustrations.

Nevertheless, despite what some critics have said, there is a great deal of substance behind the style, and anything as gorgeous as this comes highly recommended by Bookbag, particularly for children who like magic, history or film.

My thanks to the kind people at Scholastic for sending the book.

Kathy Jakobsen's take on Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land also blends art and social history to stunning effect.

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Buy The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick at


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