Friday, May 16, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret has been racking in the awards. It was a 2007 National Book Award finalist and won the mother of all children’s awards: the 2008 Caldecott Medal.

Hugo Cabret is a young French orphan with many secrets. He lives in a Paris train station where he keeps the clocks running, but his life changes when he meets a toy seller and his goddaughter.

The book’s thickness, at over 500 pages, is initially intimidating. Physically, the tome is unwieldy and difficult to handle for an adult, so I can only imagine the troubles a child might have. Ultimately, though, a majority of the book is illustrations, so reading it is not difficult.

Unfortunately, for a Caldecott winner, I was more interested in the story than the illustrations. I cared more about what happened to Hugo Cabret than looking at pictures about him. And I was confused by some of the book’s choices, particularly its use of white space in the textual areas. In a green era, it feels inappropriate to waste so much paper and space.

I was also a bit disappointed that Selznick does not take greater advantage of the Parisian setting. The city could have been another character in the novel; instead, the story easily could have taken place in any city. I always long for scenes and illustrations of Paris, and this book did not satisfy my cravings. Indeed, I was more interested in the illustrations not created by Selznick—clips from films, drawings by Georges Méliès, a photo of a train wreck.

The book is interesting, the illustrations nice, and the story intriguing, but I am not convinced any of it is award-winning caliber. I wonder if the book was chosen based on volume.

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