Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a groundbreaking children's book for so many reasons. It is the fist chapterbook to ever win the Caldecott Medal which recognizes children's picture books for achievements in illustration. Selznick, who also won a Caldecott Honor Award for illustrating the non-fiction picture book, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, won this award because this is, in a sense, truly a picture book at heart. Over half the pages are full-page, double spread illustrations, some of which go on for eight or more pages at a time. The nature of the illustrations suit the subject of the book perfectly, which ultimately is the lifework of the French filmaker, Georges Melies, who made the first ever science fiction film, A Trip to the Moon, which you can watch on Brian Selznick's website. As you follow the illustrations, chunks of which are interspersed with the text, your eye follows the pictures like a camera panning across a movie set and the story unfolds, both visually and texturally.
How the story that begins with Hugo, orphan, theif and clock keeper living behind the walls of a Paris train station, and ends up with the resurrection of the career of Melies is part of the magic of Selznick's story telling. Hugo, abused and overworked by the irresponsible uncle who looks after him, spends all of his spare time trying to mend an automaton, a kind of clock-work mechanical moving doll, that his father, an horologist, died while trying to restore. Through a series of coincidences and accidents, Hugo finds people who can help him and learns more about the mystery of the automaton while also making friends, learning to trust people again and ultimately finding a new home, a new family and a new passion.
There is quite a bit of esoteric historical information about George Melies and the work that he did woven into the story, which makes is even more interesting knowing, as with Selznick's,The Houdini Boxthat the story is a fictionalized account of the lives of real figures from history. The last two lines of the book are my favorites, maybe in all of children's literature, "In that moment, the machinery of the world lined up. Somewhere a clock struck midnight, and Hugo's future seemed to fall perfectly in place." This sentence can also be used to describe the seemingly disparate ideas, characters and plots that fall into place to make up the wonderous, wonderful book that is The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
And, as of April 2010, it seems as though Martin Scorsese will be bringing The Invention of Hugo Cabret to the big screen in 3D this December!