Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Image“He wished that he was with his mom in her library, where everything was safe and numbered and organized by the Dewey decimal system.  Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system.  That way you’d be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your dream, or your dad.”

Ben’s mother worked as the librarian in their small town, until she died in an accident, leaving Ben alone and lost.  He never knew his dad.  Now he lives with his aunt and uncle, who are kind, but after losing his mom, he can’t help but wonder about his father: where is he?  Who is he? During a thunderstorm, he discovers a mysterious message that he thinks could be from his father, and he is determined to get to the bottom of things, even if it means getting to New York City on his own.

Half a century earlier, Rose is being pushed to learn to lipread.  She rebels, cutting up her lipreading primer and turning it into a diorama of New York.  She keeps a scrapbook of her favorite movie star, and goes to all her movies.  Even though she can’t hear, Rose can still go to silent movies, and read the dialogue, like everyone else.  When she sees a newspaper headline that says Lillian Mayhew, her heroine, will be in New York soon, Rose sets out for the big city.

Rose’s part of the book is told entirely with Selznick’s intricate, enchanting pencil sketches, while Ben’s storyImage is told with words.  The effect, much like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is rich; this, like its predecessor, is a book to be treasured.  Indeed, Wonderstruck shares several similarities with Selznick’s previous book:  orphan protagonists, museums, secret messages, and adventures that take place in very important cities. I especially loved that the two books were so similar, because I felt bereft after I finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret, as though there was unlikely to ever be another book that made me feel the same way.  I shouldn’t have worried, though: with the release of Scorsese’s magical film rendition of Hugo, followed by Wonderstruck, the stories aren’t over.

ImageMy advice?  This is a book for sharing. Read it to your classroom after recess: the mystery will keep the students engaged, while the ethereal illustrations will inspire even the most timid budding artist.  Read it to your children, to anyone you love who cares about Deaf culture, dioramas, paper art, the American Museum of Natural History, libraries, adventures, thunderstorms, or New York. Read it with hot chocolate and a mind ready to marvel.  Selznick’s world is meaning-rich and stocked with secrets.  He is clearly an author that has not forgotten what it like to dream.  Let’s all hope he has another book dreamed up for us, and soon.

Happy Reading!

Wonderstruck website: http://www.wonderstruckthebook.com

Selznick, Brian. Wonderstruck. Scholastic Press: New York, 2011. 635 pp. (I promise, it doesn’t feel like it at all; you are going to wish it would last forever.)  Ages 10 and up.

If you liked this book, try The Invention of Hugo Cabret or the shorter graphic novel, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

“Hugo quickly realized he had to make it seem like his uncle was still around.  He would keep the clocks running as precisely as possible, and he’d take his uncle’s paychecks from the office when no one was looking (although he didn’t know how to cash them).  Most of all, Hugo would do his best to remain invisible.”

Hugo is a twelve-year old orphan, taken in my his alcoholic uncle, who looks after the clocks in a Paris train station.  When his uncle disappears, Hugo is afraid that if he is discovered, he will be taken to the orphanage…and he can’t bear that, because it would mean giving up on his mystery, the only thing left from his father:  the automaton, a wind-up clockwork robot with a secret inside.

Hugo’s father died in a museum fire, but he left a legacy for Hugo.  He was restoring a battered automaton, a clockwork machine that looks like a human, who carries a secret message inside.  It is an old-fashioned robot that can actually write!   If Hugo can repair it, he can see what message the automaton hides inside.

The story is complicated by a young girl, a mystery about old movies, a heart-shaped key, and a secret drawing.  It unfolds partly in prose, and partly in beautiful, intricate pencil drawings.  I could really stare at these illustrations forever.  So, the story is rich with atmosphere: the drawings evoke a feeling of old-time black and white movies.  The hand illustrations are interspersed with prints from actual old movies, which really add to the effect (and the mystery).

This is a wonderful sharing story, and I think is especially suited to younger readers, or the reluctant reader crowd.   It’s a heady accomplishment: finishing a 500 + page book, but with the combination of the mystery (what message is trapped in the broken automaton?  Who is Georges Melies, anyway?  What does all this have to do with old films? What is going to happen to Hugo?) and the beautiful illustrations, the story flies by.  This is the second time I’ve read it, and each time, I find myself wishing I could just move into the story for a little bit, and look at Paris at night through the back of the clock tower, like Hugo does.

Happy Reading!

Book website: http://www.theinventionofhugocabret.com/index.htm

Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York, Scholastic: 2007.  533 pp, ages 8 and up. ISBN: 978-0439813785

If you liked this book, I think you will also like Shaun Tan’s graphic novel, The Arrival, or Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  If you want to read more by the same author, try The Houdini Box.