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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret (with post script)

Sleznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Hugo Cabret is an orphan living in a train station in Paris. That information alone has its own fascination. Written for children, the book includes page after page of beautiful drawings -- an interesting combination of narrative and picture book.

My favorite parts have to do with Selznick's symbolic emphasis on eyes and the way he connects those elements in his drawings to plot elements in a subtle manner. The story is a mixture of fact and fiction, and I liked that as well. I liked the play on words in the title. Automatons , early movies, and clocks all fascinate me....

I was not, however, as captivated as many readers have been and thought the narrative much less artistic than the drawings. All the elements of mystery are here, but the textual characterization and the plot never have the effect of other great children's novels. The writing and dialogue seem stilted.

This does not mean that I didn't enjoy this book. I did. Actually, quite a lot. There were many elements that I appreciated, but for several reasons, it did not quite live up to what I hoped for when I first heard about it on NPR a year or so ago.

Last summer, I read The Chess Machine which I reviewed here, another mixture of fact and fiction that dealt with magicians and automata. A nice companion book, but written for adults.

A peek at an automaton:

-----------Post Script----------
Other reviews: Becky's review ; Maggie's review; Carl's review;

Fiction. Juvenile/Children's Lit. 2007. 533 pages.


  1. I haven't seen any publicity about this is the UK. I'll do some investigating and see if it's been released here.

  2. Ann - I've seen several reviews on book blogs. I need to find some and add them to the post.

  3. I think I remember someone else saying that the text didn't live up to the illustrations in this one. That's always disappointing, but the book still sounds well worth reading.

  4. I think I liked this book so much because it was different. I need a bit of variety in my reading. But, yeah, I think I liked the drawings better than the writing.

  5. Ooh those automatons were cool. I have both the Hugo and Chess Machine books on my radar.

  6. Nymeth - It IS worth a look and might be better read with a child to get the full effect.

    Kailana - It is certainly a new approach in the way it uses the drawings - not a typical picture book, not a graphic novel...

    iliana - The automatons are cool aren't they? Fascinating!

  7. I definitely want to read Chess Machine sometime, it sounded so interesting.

    Sorry Hugo didn't live up to all of your expectations but I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think it met my expectations because of the fact that a real film maker and his films tied into it which made me go and check this out more and gave an added dimension to the story.

    If you ever get a chance to snag this on audio from the library it is worth it because there is a DVD extra that talks more about his influences and about that film maker. It is really worth watching.

  8. I have heard so many great things about this book that I'm a little wary of reading it - I don't see how it can live up to the hype.

  9. I read this last year and really enjoyed it, but I'm sure it won't live up to the hype. My kids really enjoyed it, though--I've heard it said that it's a great "gateway" book for a young reader who is not usually reading something so long--because of the pictures integrated into the text. I found that to be true--my middle son was so proud that he finished it!

  10. Carl - The Chess Machine is interesting, especially with the real-life history mixed in.

    I loved the connection in Hugo to the old films (and knew in advance because of the NPR review I listened to). I will check with the library - the DVD sounds great.

    Lesley - This is often the case, isn't it? I'd like to read it with a young person to see the effect it might have.

    Gentle Reader - If kids enjoy it, and the book excites their imagination and interest in reading -- then it is a marvelous book. It was, after all, written for children, not adults.