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The Invention of Hugo Cabret
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Brian Selznick's poignant, magical Caldecott Medal-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret is set in a Paris train station and features a 12-year-old hero who's had a sad life. Orphaned, alone, and homeless, he lives by stealing and scavenging, and no one is kind to him until late in the book. The wholly original story is told largely in beautiful black-and-white charcoal drawings -- 284 pages of them -- whose perspective pans in and out the way shots in a film would. It was made into a live-action movie titled Hugo and released in 2011.
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What's the story?
When Hugo's father, a clockmaker, is killed in a fire, Hugo is taken in by his uncle. They live together in a hidden room inside the walls of the Paris train station, where it's the uncle's job to maintain the station clocks -- until one night he disappears. Now Hugo is alone, still living inside the station walls, stealing to survive, and maintaining the clocks so no one will know his uncle is gone.
Hugo also works on an automaton, a mechanical man, that his father was trying to restore. He steals parts from a toy shop in the station. When he's caught, the mean store owner takes away his father's notebook and threatens him with arrest. But the old man's hidden past and Hugo's are intertwined, and the secret message hidden in the automaton's workings is only the beginning.
Is it any good?
THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET is like nothing you've seen before. When you or your child first pick it up, it looks like one of those fat fantasies that are so popular these days. When you open it, it seems similar to a graphic novel. But lengthy sections of wordless illustrations (284 pages of drawings) are interspersed with pages of more traditional prose. But neither text nor pictures can stand without the other.
Brian Selznick's brilliant hybrid is put in service of a complex and heartfelt story that involves a plucky orphan, the history of early cinema, the mechanics of clocks and other intricate machinery, and a little bit of magic. The whole is a work of great beauty and excitement, with breathless pacing ramped up even further by the wordless sections. Selznick has created an entirely new art form that succeeds as art, literature, and entertainment.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about wordless stories. How does a story told in pictures differ from a conventional book? Is it as easy to follow? Is it more fun in some ways?
How can an automaton be made to write poems and draw pictures? How does an automaton work?
What did you learn from this book about how the earliest movies were made?
Kids may want to see the films referred to in this story. Consider seeking them out for further viewing.
For kids who love fantasy and adventure
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.