My Books at Bedtime read this week probably needs little to no introduction. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2007) has won the Caldecott Medal and has received wide acclaim for its ground-breaking style of presentation of text mixed with graphic novel style illustration. I’d been lent the book sometime ago by a teacher friend, and it was only recently that my daughter and I embarked on a reading of it. The book completely charmed her. A recalcitrant reader at the best of times, she enjoyed the fact that some of the narrative was entirely pictures, but on the other hand, the story in print was so engaging, she would read aloud the pages with text without her usual grumbling. (We take turns reading aloud the pages — I read one page, she reads another.) In fact, I think she crossed a major threshold in her reading ability with this book insofar as she was now actually comprehending what she was reading textually rather than reading aloud to get the right pronunciation of the words (only!) without fundamentally understanding the content of what she had read. No doubt having the narrative driven by the cinematic series and sequences of drawings between textual portions helped this process along.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret for those unfamiliar with the book is about an orphaned boy, Hugo, who lives in Paris of the 1930′s in a train station where he fixes the station’s clocks. Hugo is fascinated by all things mechanical and in particular, is in possession of a notebook containing a curious drawing of an automaton. One day while attempting to steal a mechanical mouse at the train station toy shop, he is caught by the old man proprietor who makes Hugo surrender his precious notebook to him. However, the proprietor’s god-daughter Isabelle saves the notebook in exchange for finding out a little more about the mysterious boy hiding and living in the train station. Thus begins an awkward friendship and relationship between these three characters who have more in common than they know. The story, as I noted before, is told in a combination of words and pictures, and really is a paean to the days of early cinema.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a wonderful, cross-genre book and I do recommend it highly as an innovative bedtime read for your middle-years child.