This past Saturday I had the pleasure of reading one of the most exciting and well crafted stories I’ve read in a long time. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is a beautifully written and illustrated story that was well deserving of the Caldecott Medal it was awarded in 2008. The story is about a little boy, Hugo Cabret, who lives in the train station in Paris, and tends to the stations clocks. One thing I loved about Hugo Cabret is that the story centers on clocks and time and the setting, a train station, is a place where people rely on clocks and spend much time of their time waiting. Before Hugo’s father died he worked at a museum and was restoring an automation that had been broken. The automation was of a man sitting at a desk and once fixed and properly wound, the automation would write something. Since losing his father and finding the remains of the automation, it had become Hugo’s sole ambition to fix the automation and see the message that he felt his father had left for him. Shortly after taking him in, Hugo’s uncle, an employee at the train station, disappeared and Hugo began taking his paychecks and continuing on tending to the clocks so the Train Inspector would not find him and he would not end up in an orphanage. He tried to pay for everything he needed with the coins he found since he didn’t know how to cash his uncles paychecks but he was forced to steal some necessities from time to time. The only exception to Hugo’s rule were toys.
After another failed attempt of trying to get his notebook back from the old man, Papa Georges tells Hugo he will give him the opportunity to work at the toy booth and possibly earn his notebook back. Hugo meets Isabelle in the bookstore as promised and she tells him that his notebook is safe. Hugo will not tell her what is so important to him in the notebook. Then Isabelle’s friend Etienne, a movie theater manager who is kind enough to sneak her in, arrives in the bookstore and promises to sneak Isabelle and Hugo in a movie next week. Isabelle’s godparents will not let her see movies so she must lie in order to go and Hugo must make excuses to the old man as to why he can’t work at the toy shop. When they get to the theater they discover that Etienne has been fired for sneaking children into the movies but luckily Isabelle is able to use her hairpin to pick the lock to the back door and the children get to enjoy the show. It reminds Hugo of the times he used to go to the movies with his father. It also reminds him of the story his father told him about his favorite movie he had ever seen. There was one scene he described in which a rocket went into the moons eye.
The next day Isabelle instructs Hugo to meet her at the bookstore again because she had found his notebook and stolen it back for him. The old man finds Hugo with the notebook and accuses him of breaking into his house and stealing the notebook from him. He is very upset and tells Hugo that he was going to give it back to him if he would’ve just waited. Isabelle doesn’t say anything to defend Hugo even though she is the one who stole the notebook so Hugo begs to be able to say goodbye to her. He runs over and hugs her while stealing her heart shaped key necklace in the process. Hugo runs back to his room and checks his work on the automation against the instructions in his fathers notebook and finds that everything he has done is correct. Isabelle bursts into his room and yells at him for stealing her necklace before Hugo has time to hide the automation. He tells Isabelle that it was his fathers and the two watch as Hugo uses Isabelle’s key to wind the automation even though Hugo would much prefer to see the message by himself.
When the automation stops writing, Hugo and Isabelle are shocked by what they discover. The automation draws a picture instead of a message. The picture is of the scene of the movie that Hugo’s father had told him about but Hugo can’t figure out what it means. But the to their surprise, the automation continues drawing until it finishes with a signature at the bottom of the page. The signature being Georges Melies, Isabelle’s godfather, the toy shop owner. The book is split into two parts and it is now that Brian Selznick provides the reader with the following note:
That brings us to the end of this story.
Now you know how the mysterious drawing
I mentioned at the beginning of this book came
to be discovered. It had been hidden inside the
clockworks of a well loved machine, waiting to
be released by a stolen key. Here the curtain
closes and we fade to black.
But another story begins, because stories
lead to other stories, and this one leads
It is now that we’ll leave it up to you to continue the story. The second half of the book is where Isabelle and Hugo solve the mystery of the automation and we discover things beyond our wildest dreams.
What I Love
Brian Selznick uses beautiful language to paint the scene in the readers mind. Some of my favorite quotes from the book include:
“I hope the snow covers everything so all the footsteps are silenced, and the whole city can be at peace.”
Hugo to Isabelle: “Sometimes I come up here at night, even when I’m not fixing clocks, just to look at the city. I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.”
The drawings are another huge portion adding to the beauty of the book. They give you insight into the story the way that Selznick intended it to be told. One of our favorite drawings is this one:
Martin Scorsese obviously saw the genius in the storytelling skills of Brain Selznick and chose to adapt it into a film starring Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz.
I also love the history of cinema that is included in the book. One of the first movies ever created in 1895 was called A Train Arrives in the Station and when the train came speeding towards the screen, the audience screamed and fainted because they thought they were in danger of being run over.
The chapters names! My favorite being The Invention of Dreams
I hope you continue the story on your own as I cannot praise The Invention of Hugo Cabret enough. I read it in one day because I literally could not put it down and because sometimes stories are just that beautiful. Hugo Cabret struck a chord with my inner child and I swear I felt the excitement as I ran with Hugo through the train station on his and Isabelle’s adventures. Reading a story that focuses so heavily on time, dreams, and young people trying to find their place in the world really makes you stop to think and reevaluate where you are. Happy Reading!