Young adult novels or picture books. Who says you can’t have both? Certainly not Brain Selznick, author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This winner of the 2008 Caldecott Medal and #1 New York Times Bestseller transports the reader into Paris circa 1931, where they meet an orphaned timekeeper’s apprentice with a knack for mechanics and a plethora of secrets.
No need to be intimidated by the thickness of this book! Of the 512 pages in this novel, 284 of them are filled with beautiful black-and-white illustrations that allow the story to spring off the page. Selznick alternates between the illustrations supplementing the text and the illustrations replacing the text, which keeps the book fresh and exciting. While the pictures are the biggest selling point of this novel, the text also addresses philosophical questions such as “Is stealing ever justified?” and “What is my purpose in the world?” These themes are complex, but the style of writing is simple and concise, making Hugo a fabulous reading choice for students in grades four and above.
This book would make an excellent lead-in to a writing workshop about author’s choices. Questions such as “Why did he choose to use pictures here instead of text?” and “Why do some pages have only two lines of text on them?” can open discussion about the author’s creative license and how that can translate into students’ own writing. While many children write formulaic pieces, Hugo provides an extreme example of breaking the mold with purpose.
Reviewed by Jess Nylen