The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick


In 2007, I read a new to be author by the name of Brian Selznick. His book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, came to be in my top 10 for that year. I loved it. With the movie out, I knew I had to see it. I also knew I had to reread it. In 2007, I said:

Combining excellent narrative, beautiful illustration, and a high dose of imagination, Brian Selznick has created a bittersweet and touching story, among other things, a 12-year-old orphan, a heartbroken old man, a little bit of magic, and an automaton.

Personally, I have never quite seen a book so stylistic and original.  As you open the book, you are invited to follow a young boy, Hugo Cabret, as he moves stealthly through a train station.  As you turn the pages, you are greated by a rising sun and soon flying through Paris until you land beside Hugo, and are immediately swept up into his story.  It has a movie feel to it as you move through the pictures.   Poor Hugo; he lost his beloved clock-maker father in a fire at the museum where he worked.  Because of that, he has to go live with his drunk uncle at the train-station, where he keeps all the clocks running.  Hugo becomes his apprentice; but soon he is doing all the work on his own.  Not long after he comes to live with his uncle, the man disappears, leaving Hugo alone and scared.

Before his beloved father died, he found an automaton in the attic of the old museum.  While visiting the site, Hugo found the automaton, and smuggles it back to the train station.  I don’t want to give too much away to the story, for I want you to discover it for yourselves.  But what follows is a journey full of magic and rescue; for the orphan Hugo and the old man Papa Georges (from whom Hugo steals toys for parts for his automaton and also a real man, Georges Melies, who lived in France and whose life this book is loosely modeled around).

Don’t be discouraged by the size, this 534 page tome is a fast read.  I started and finished it yesterday.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that I could not put it down.   And I will definitely reread it over and over again.  This novel is written for kids, but adults will find much to love in his heartwarming story of loss, love and redemption.

I am very happy to have found that The Invention of Hugo Cabret lived up to my memories of it and then some. I love that identified early with the movie feel of the book. Rereading it only built my anticipation for seeing the movie. And this time, I really appreciated the skill Selznick used in telling his story. The combination of words and pictures in this particular book is really extraordinary. The mystery and magic of the words are amplified by the truly stunning pictures and vice versa. And stunning they are. The detail involved in such a simple pencil drawing, it takes the once-upon-a-time wannabe artist’s heart of mine’s breath away. I only wish I could capture half the emotion and intensity Selznick captures in such a simple drawing as a human eye. The boy’s loneliness is tangible and something I think many children, orphaned or not, will be able to identify with. The fact that the boy learns to make his own way in the world, while still taking help from friends, is a valuable lesson as well.


And I don’t think I fully appreciated that one of the characters in the book was a real person. Georges Méliès was an early French filmmaker and an early user of special effects. I confess I’ve never seen one of his films (but I really want to do so!) but I am familiar with an iconic image from one of his movies; Le Voyage dans la Lune.

The life Selznick writes is mostly fictionalized, but Méliès was (in real life and in the book) an important figure in cinematic history. And may I say, I think the casting of Ben Kinsley as Méliès was genius. He looks just like him!



Perfect yes? I hope to get to the theater to see this movie soon. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading this truly marvelous book, I hope you will take the opportunity soon.

iconThe Invention of Hugo Cabret

By Brian Selznick

Reading level: Ages 9 and up

Hardcover: 533 pages

Publisher: Scholastic Press; First Edition edition (January 30, 2007)

ISBN: 978-0439813785

9 thoughts on “The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

  1. This is my son's bedtime story right now. It's my second time reading it and I have to agree that it's absolutely living up to my warm memory of it. I've heard that the movie might not hold the attention of a seven-year old though so we'll probably wait until it's on video to see it. 🙁

  2. I loved this one too! I think it was the first review I ever wrote for a website other than my own (PopMatters). I most definitely want to see the film, and when I taught Lit and Film last term, we had a WHOLE big discussion about Méliès' film work. Voyage to the Moon is on YouTube if you ever want to watch it. I remember seeing bits and pieces of it on various kids' TV shows growing up. You might recognize some of it, too.

  3. I absolutely cannot believe how long this has been on my shelf without me reading it! *sigh* That is far too common a scenario around here. Anyway, I'm so happy to hear that it gets the Heather stamp of approval–as that only confirms my suspicion that I will adore it. 🙂

  4. Great review! I read this book on the recommendation of a children's librarian, and I'm so glad she suggested it. The other thing I love about it is that kids can feel amazing to have read such a long book. (never mind that many of the pages are filled with drawings — you practically "read" the illustrations, too)

  5. I've never read this one but saw a showing of Selznick's work at the art gallery and love his work. Sounds like I need to read the book as well. The movie has definitely piqued my interest!

  6. Hello from your Secret Santee! I just thought I'd stop by your blog. Great place! I was pleased to see the review you've posted of this marvelous book. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't read Selznick's work, although I've been meaning to for years. I did manage to see Hugo in the theater recently. It was incredible. My 6 yr-old was a little bored, buy my 11 year-old also loved it. Do yourself a favor and catch it on the big screen before it's gone. And I need to do myself a favor and read the book, for heaven's sake!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *