The Invention of Hugo Cabret

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Behind the walls of a Parisian train station, an orphan boy named Hugo Cabret works as an ‘Apprentice Timekeeper’ for his uncle. An unkind man, Uncle Claude leaves Hugo to do more and more of the work until one day, he disappears completely. Initially, Hugo decides to escape, but whilst leaving, he finds himself by the museum where his father used to work before the fire that killed him and seeing the automaton his father was working on, rescues it and takes it back to the station walls. Here, he keeps the clocks running so no one will notice his uncle’s absence and works on the automaton in his spare time using his father’s notebooks, hoping it will write a message from his father.

In his desperation to make the automaton work, Hugo steals the parts he needs and is caught red handed by the old man who runs a toy booth at the station. This is the start of a fascinating voyage of discovery for Hugo and leads to events which will change his life forever.

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The urge to write about this book came when my long-suffering husband suggested we watch ‘Hugo’, the film version of Brian Selznick’s ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’, whilst I was working this afternoon. The film is a great favourite of ours - as is the book- and the beauty of the story struck me yet again, leaving me reaching for the book once more!

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Brian Selznick’s books are always a joy- original, quirky and simply beautiful. ‘Hugo’ is no exception. The story is told partly by illustrations, partly by text and partly by real photographs. The images are an essential part of the story, each a masterpiece, bringing Paris, the station and the characters to life.

As well as following Hugo, the book tells the story of Georges Méliès, who led many technical developments in the earliest days of cinema. An illusionist, he added magic to film making with fantastical early works like ‘A Trip to the Moon’. Photographs of Méliès and his works form part of the book, seamlessly working into the narrative.

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The joy of a book like this when put into the hands of children is the wonder and excitement on their faces as the whole comes together. They dwell on the illustrations, lapping up details, trying to flick the pages to create moving pictures from the sequences of pictures. There is so much to capture the imagination and develop interest, inspire writing, illustration, film making… Absolutely wonderful!

Four years ago, my then class were lucky enough to interview Brian Selznick via Skype from Dennis Sever’s house in London about his book, ‘The Marvels’. It was an amazing event and the children were instant fans of both the man and his writing- as was I! You can read about our interview here.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret Brian Selznick

Scholastic ISBN: 978-1407103488