Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Plot Summary: ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo's undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

I heard Brian Selznick speak at the 2007 Winter SCBWI conference. He told us the entire history of Hugo Cabret – the inspiration, the initial execution, the stumbling blocks, everything. Since I’m a storyteller at heart, this story about a story had me riveted. I was so enthralled that I decided I had to buy his book. So, at our next break, I ran off to the bookstore to pick it up. But I wasn’t the only person with this idea... By the time I’d gotten there, it had already sold out.

This told me two things. 1) Brian Selznick is an amazing speaker, and got so many people interested in his book that we all ran out to buy it. 2) All authors should to learn how to do this.

When I got home from the conference, I picked up the book from my local bookstore, then settled in to read.

Let me first say that I'm not one for picture books. I enjoy reading them to my kids, but I’m not too interested in reading them for myself. However, this book had me enthralled. The artwork is absolutely beautiful (I have a special place in my heart for pencil drawings, anyway), and I spent many an hour just staring at the detail in each picture.

I wasn’t as enthralled with the text. The story, yes. Most definitely. But the writing wasn’t as smooth or polished as I would have liked. If I had read this story without the pictures, I doubt I’d have been so taken with it. But the pictures...more specifically, the way the pictures and the text are combined such that both tell the story is genius! I love how you can’t get the complete story with only the text, and you can’t get the complete story with only the pictures. You need them both. If there were more picture books out there like this, I’d definitely read them.

13 comments:

Marcia said...

I was really glad this book won the Caldecott. It had to win something because of its "distinguished contribution" status, and I think it won the right prize. Everything's interesting about this book, including what a fast read it is for such a thick book! I wonder if only in a post-Harry-Potter world it could have been published. I did have one thought when I first saw it that another writing friend also said she had: This book cost an AWful lot of trees.

I appreciate illustration, but I'm not a "picture worth a thousand words" person. Gimme words. I don't know that I'm convinced the story couldn't have been more conventionally written. But you have to give Selznick major points for the concept. I've also noticed that author/illustrators are usually better illustrators than writers, although there are a few exceptions out there (Kevin Henkes).

Tabitha said...

I was glad it won the Caldecott too. The artwork is beautiful, but the writing is so-so. I would have been upset if it won the Newbery, simply because of the quality of the writing.

You bring up an interesting point about whether this story could have been more conventionally written... What if it had been? I doubt it would have gotten the attention it got. I think the reason it did so well is because it was unconventional, *and* it worked.

Ooo, my brain is churning! This could be its own blog post! :)

Jacqui said...

As usual, I think you are spot on. I admit I read this in the middle of the worst vacation I've ever taken, so my opinion is biased, but I wasn't as taken with the story as I was wowed by the format. It is such a beautiful book, though, so I was also glad it won the Caldecott.

PJ Hoover said...

I was at the same conference and bought the book for the same reason! What a fantastic presentation! Definitely something to remember.
Do you think we saw each other :)

Tabitha said...

Jacqui - Worst vacation ever? Oh, that stinks. :( But I don't think you're biased, because the text just didn't shine the way the pictures did. And the format.

PJ - So cool we were at the same conference!! We might have seen each other, but there were like 1000 people there so I'm sure I don't remember if I did see you. :)

Brian did an amazing job speaking, didn't he? All authors need to learn how to do this, and then stock a zillion books at the local store. :)

Susan Sandmore said...

Same same. The book had the additional effect on me of making me want to dig out my pencils and draw again. I'm no Selznick, but I love to mess around . . .

Tabitha said...

Same here. :) I only have one art class under my belt from college, but it sure was fun. I could only get the hang of graphite - hated everything else. Selznick's artwork made me want to break out my pencils again. My attempts were pathetic, but still fun. :)

Mary Witzl said...

Just reading this almost made me want to run out and get the book too! (I say 'almost' because I am a little book-shy at the moment, being up to my knees in them.) Our kids loved picture books and we still have many of the ones they really enjoyed; we can't bring ourselves to get rid of them.

The way you've described this has intrigued me. I would like to read the text to see in what way it doesn't live up to the drawings. I'll look out for your next blog posting (as soon as I can leave my packing for another 30 minutes...)

I love pencil drawings too, and graphite and charcoal were my favorite mediums. And speaking of writer/illustrators who are equally gifted in both fields, if you have not already seen them, try to get hold of any of Graham Oakley's 'Church Mice' series. Our kids were crazy about them, but we enjoyed them even more. The pictures, which are first rate, tell part of the story, but the plots and use of language are equally wonderful.

Tabitha said...

LOL!! I can understand why you're book shy at the moment. I was too when was packing up all of mine. :)

I will definitely check out the Church Mice series. My kids are still loving the picture books, and I'm always looking for more. :)

Angie Frazier said...

I was also at his keynote speech in 2007, and I remember getting goosebumps with his standing ovation! The format is so original and intriguing.

Tabitha said...

I did too!! It made me want to rush out then and there to buy his book. :) Next time he's scheduled to speak, I'll be there. :)

WordWrangler said...

I haven't read this book yet, but I've heard wonderful reviews. Thank you for the insight. As usual, you've given me something to think about. I'll have to check it out.

Tabitha said...

It's a great book. You'll enjoy it. :)