At first look, this book seems quite a daunting read for children. It is short and fat, at over 500 pages of a beautifully written story about one of France’s most legendary filmmakers, Georges Méliès. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is a uniquely creative book about a fictional account of Méliès’ life after retiring from the film industry.
Although this book is over 500 pages, 284 of these pages include illustrations, which take over the storyline. The phrase, a picture is worth a thousand words, is more than applicable to this book. I would place the age group for this book at ages 8 and up. Some of the text fills up the entire page, sometimes only 4 lines and occasionally only 1 line of the page. The illustrations pick up the more complicated parts of the story, showing rather than the telling the adventures of Hugo Cabret, the twelve year old nephew to the Timekeeper at a Paris Metro station in 1931.
The pictures vary from charcoal images, to photographic prints of early cinema. This book is a fantastic introduction to early cinema, starting with A Trip To The Moon.
So, now to explain the plot. This is the story of Hugo Cabret and an automaton he found in the rubble of a museum consumed by fire. It was in the attic of this same museum where Hugo tragically lost his father. Hugo was then taken by his uncle to work as an apprentice to the Clock Keeper at the metro, until his uncle one day disappeared. Hugo, still continuing the work left behind by his uncle survived by living a quiet life, stealing food and drink when necessary, and occasionally toys from the toy store. It was at this toy store when he was one day caught and had a most treasured notebook taken from him by the shopkeeper.
With mysterious meetings with Isabelle, a young orphan living with the shopkeeper and his life, Hugo slowly begins to piece together puzzles from his life while working for the shopkeeper, and working on the automaton. This automaton is special, because it is in the shape of a man sitting a desk, pen in hand, ready to deliver a message that will forever alter Hugo’s future.
Although it is a very quick read due to the limited amount of text, I spent a lot of time with the illustrations, and reading the story through the eyes of the artist. This work is part story, part graphic novel, part movie picture book. The story is rich with symbolism and metaphors and the story is an exciting Cinderella tale for young boys.
A Trip to the Moon on YouTube: Georges Melies – A trip to the moon (1902)