The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Oct 22, 2009

Category: Words    Tags: , , ,

There are two reasons why every discerning teacher needs to read this book to their class.

Firstly, your readers won’t get anywhere near as much from it once they’ve seen the film. Shortly after ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ was published in 2007, the film-rights were snapped up and it should be released next year. Directed by Martin Scorsese, it is bound to be a popular watch.

But getting to the story before the film does is hardly a compelling argument to go out and buy a book that retails at £12.99.

The second reason is hopefully a little more convincing and explains why this isn’t an ordinary children’s book… Why the book will be better than anything the filmmakers can dream up. And why reading a good book isn’t just about looking at words on a page. You only need to get as far as the first chapter to see that this is a book to be experienced, not just read…

Introduction from Hugo Cabret

Following this intriguing introduction come 21 double-pages of beautifully pencilled monochrome illustrations…

No words — just images…

As if taken from the fictional silent movie mentioned in the introduction, the illustrations zoom in and change angle, each one chosen carefully like a well-directed shot. The following video clip has captured the ‘silent-movie’ feel of these illustrations magically…

And then the story continues for a few pages in text form — before switching to images again. Never do the images depict something already described in the text and never does the text explain away the illustrations.

It is 1931 in Paris and after the uncle that Hugo Cabret lives with disappears, the 12-year old decides to continue his work seeing to the station clocks. If the clocks continue to work, hopefully noone will register that his uncle has gone and Hugo can be left to his own devices — living in the station walls and mending a mechanical
toy much-loved by his late father. It is an automaton — a mechanical figure — of a man holding a pen. ready to deliver a message…

If he can repair the toy, Hugo feels sure that it might reveal a message from his father. A mysterious toy shop owner, an eccentric girl and the worlds of silent films and automata feature heavily in what follows…

Lying somewhere between a children’s novel, picture book, silent film and graphic novel, I’ve never come across a book quite like ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’. Brian Selznick wrote a text-only complete version of the story first, then returned to the manuscript and took out every scene that he could draw. The challenge he set for himself was to tell as much of the story as possible visually, like the silent films that feature so heavily in the narrative. It is, as someone once described it, ‘category-bending’.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ is one of those books that seems to have been lost under the radar slightly since publication, meaning that your class will enjoy ‘exploring’ it together.

Exploring… An accurate word to describe what can go on in a classroom that is reading this book. There are links galore with real-life events, works of art and characters and your class will love the story all the more when they discover that Georges Méliès was a real person, that they can watch clips of ‘Le voyage dans la lune’, that the train crash at Gare Montparnasse actually happened in 1895 and that the world of automata is fascinating.

All of which means nothing if you haven’t read the book.

Go to a bookshop, or visit Amazon and I guarantee if you pick the book up, you’ll buy it. It’s that sort of book. A book to be handled as well as read.

And that’s why the film can’t touch it. It’s a shame that for many children, the only experience they’ll have of ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ will be in a cinema.

Just don’t get us started on the ways that this can be used to enhance their writing… We’ll save that for another post.

UPDATE: The film is now scheduled to be released Dec 9th, 2011.

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