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?