Friday, May 25, 2012

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Not Quite A Graphic Novel Month steams along with today's entry, The Caldecott Medal winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

This thick book is chock full of beautiful, evocative drawings that pack quite an emotional punch. They are very reminiscent of silent film images, with their quiet energy and instant empathetic appeal. The illustrations sometimes also resemble flip books or old time photographs. The story follows Hugo, a 12 year old orphan who secretly lives in a Paris train station during the turn of the 20th century. At the train station, Hugo maintains the grand clock, attempts to fix an automaton he found, steals food, and tries to avoid the police who guard the place. As time passes, we learn how Hugo came to be in this predicament and he befriends a young girl who accompanies him on his adventures. Unbeknownst to him, her godfather is George Méliès, a French film-making pioneer and the creator of the automaton.

The author of this book, Brian Selznick, is a well established children's book author who has been publishing books since 1991 and who has won multiple honors in addition to the Caldecott, which are all listed here. He speaks in depth about this book and his work in general in this interview from Scholastic. In addition, Selznick has a wonderfully detailed website about the book, its making, and its film adaptation here.

Aside from garnering quite a bit of critical praise, this book was optioned by Academy Award winning director Martin Scorsese who made it into a feature film. The film won Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. A technical masterpiece to match the book, the movie cost a bundle to make and is well worth a viewing.

This has been almost universally exalted book. The tough critics at Kirkus Reviews gushed in a starred review that it was "elegantly designed" and "uniquely inventive." The New York Times' John Schwartz praised the book: its "story is full of twists and surprises, and it is especially touching for being based in part on the real-life troubles of Georges Méliès." The Guardian's kid reviewer called the book "brilliant" and added, "I think this book deserves five out of five stars."

A video preview is available here from the author. The book was published by Scholastic, who have a variety of resources at their site.

Why it is not quite a graphic novel: This book is beautifully illustrated, with each page acting as a panel that propels the story. The lack of words integrated in the story prevents me from saying it is a true graphic novel, especially when there are some extended text pieces that act as glue between the art chapters. It is the separation of the words from the art that lead to my decision about what to call this book, which is a supremely illustrated novel, if I have to categorize it. Not that this demarcation should detract from the book's beauty, warmth, and fantastic storyline. It reads simultaneously like a photo book, movie, and novel, which is no easy feat to achieve.

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