Friday, July 2, 2010

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

When first picking up The Invention of Hugo Cabret at the library, I didn't know what to think. I was assigned the book for a Children's Literature Class, and frankly, I was a little alarmed at the thickness it, wondering how we were going to finish that many pages in the time allotted.

The Caldecott Medal, of course, was an indicator that the book will typically be a good one, and it was. The trouble with reading a book for a literature class though, is that it tends to be dissected and over analyzed to death before the class is done with it.While it's nice to have a discussion about themes and patterns, at some point, I just like to enjoy the book. Despite my annoyance with the overkill of literary analysis for my class, this was a book my family and I did enjoy.

Upon opening it, I was surprised at the large number of illustrations (as well as a bit relieved.) I don't think I have ever seen such a thick book with so many pictures. I didn't really know what genre to put it in. It's too wordy to be a picture book, and I usually associated graphic novels with Pokemon, or other big headed cartoon style books. This was a real story, full of action, adventure, mystery and interesting characters and places, it just also happens to have a ton of really awesome drawings.

While the story is fiction, there are a couple of historical elements that a homeschooling mama naturally expands on. The character of Georges Melies was based on a real person- a French filmmaker from the earliest days of cinema, and the guy was really cutting edge in his time. We were able to find a bunch of Melies films at the library, and had a fun mini marathon of his old black and white films. It's hard to believe how far cinema and special effects have come.

The automaton in the story is inspired by a real and incredible machine made in the early 1800's by Henri Maillardet. It's sort of like a mechanical robot that can perform certain tasks. This one is a rustic looking bunch of nuts and bolts that actually write out poems in a very fancy script and draw pictures. I have such respect for the amazing minds that can come with ideas like these. We were also able to find video of Maillardet's automaton online, and see it in action after it's reconstruction. How on earth someone ever looks at a pile of screws and comes up with putting something like that together, I don't understand, but wow!

The drawings in the book though, with their intricate details, were really what set the book apart. Selznick uses an interesting technique-tackling a scene or sequence of events from different perspectives. He takes various angles of the same scene from afar, and moves in to close ups, looks at the scene from above, below, behind and in front. The incredible illustrations enhanced the story, and the level of detail more than made up for the lack of color. The black and white at the end photos added to the old time feel of the story.

With it's hefty size, it may not look like a bit of light reading, but we found it an interesting, fun paced book. It's well worth checking out for both the pictures and the story.

What books are you all reading this summer?


  1. Wasn't that a great book? We loved it!
    Hope to see you soon...

  2. I'm happy to hear someone talking (blogging) about this book! I think it's an absolute treasure! The way the pictures combine with the text is completely captivating.

    I've just read the Adventures of Edward Tulane, and was just as pleased with it. I found it to be a quick, simple read with a profound message. As one reviewer put it, "Why would I care at all what happens to an arrogant, cold-hearted, porcelain rabbit? But I did care. Very, very much." I felt that way, too! It's a wonderful little book and I'm thinking of using it in our curriculum next year as a contrast to The Velveteen Rabbit (short story verses novel, wanting to be real verses wanting to be left alone, wanting to be loved verses wanting to learn to love, and more....). In short, I highly recommend this book, too!


  3. Glad to hear other people have enjoyed this gem too!
    @DarkPony- I was actually thinking of Hugo Cabret for a certain young redheads birthday in October. I'll have to keep searching since he's already discovered it.
    @Tatiana- we enjoyed Edward Tulane too- what a contrast from Velveteen Rabbit!

  4. We also discovered this book just a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it!!!

    I am going to go to your link and show my daughter the automaton!

  5. KaKei- If you can find any of the old Georges Melies films, they are pretty cool too! Enjoy!

  6. One of the members of the Caldecott committee who selected this book is a member of our church and a friend.=)

    This post is in the 239th Carnival of Homeschooling, history of home education edition, which now is up at The Common Room, My theme is 'the history of homeschooling in America.' It was very interesting to research and I learned some fascinating things along the way (do you know why we have age segregated classrooms in America?).

    Please pay us a visit, and reciprocate in the publicity the carnival brings you by passing along the link along so others can visit as well.

    Please consider other ways to spread the news about the carnival as well- the more people who visit the carnival, the more link-love you get- If you have a facebook account, you could pass on the link there (fb doesn't like tiny url links, so here's the long one:, and if you have a twitter account, please tweet!


  7. I loved, loved, loved this book and can't wait to see it at the movies. I'm also eagerly anticipating his newest release Wonderstruck.

  8. Yes Jackie- I'm looking forward to the movie too. I'm not sure if we should re-read the book again before hand or not. Sometimes, if I don't have enough time between book and movie, I get hyper critical of the film. Hopefully it's a good one, as the book was amazing and sent us on a learning rampage about old films and automatons.


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