For a boy in 1931 Paris, Hugo Cabret leads an unusual life. Living alone in the train station, he gets by by keeping the clocks wound and stealing. Whether it’s food or small mechanical parts, stealing has become second nature to him. Possessing those cogs and wheels means the world to Hugo, so when getting caught by the old man at the toy booth puts a damper on his collecting, Hugo sees it as the end of it. But then there’s the girl – maybe she can help free him from his predicament. He couldn’t foresee that she and the man would be much more than that as he searches for meaning and purpose in his solitary life.
I’m not sure why I held off on experiencing Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret until now. In retrospect it seems right up my alley with its unique and novel format. I knew that it used both words and illustrations to tell its story, and with it winning the Caldecott Medal I expected to see elements of a picture book. The graphic novel similarities were also expected, as the book relies strictly on images to tell portions of the story in certain sections. What surprised me was how from the start it also felt like a film – a silent, black and white one at that – or even one with stop animation. Reading further the references to early film history made it clear how well the media suited the story. It is how Hugo bends and blurs the lines between these mediums which is my favorite aspect of the book. What I also loved (and made the format work) was how smooth and natural the transitions from words to pictures felt. Most often it was the illustrated action scenes which I found so refreshing and appropriate. After all sometimes a picture does speak a thousand words. Beyond my enjoyment of the format, I liked Hugo, who is flawed in his good intentions. Life may not turn out like he planned but what happened is better than he could ever have dreamed. I enjoyed the simple, heartfelt story of how he becomes the Hugo he is today. A quick yet meaningful winter read, The Invention of Hugo Cabret was exactly what I needed this busy time of year. I will definitely be picking up Selznick’s latest Wonderstruck, which I already have in my possession.