Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Best Books of the Year (So Far): Elementary School

The Best Elementary Book of the Year (So Far):
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Twelve-year-old orphan Hugo Cabret is convinced that his clockmaker father left him a message in a clockwork man. But it needs to be fixed first. He lives secretly in the walls of a Paris train station, stealing bits and pieces from a toymaker to repair his father's legacy. However, Hugo's not the only one with secrets around here . . .

Possibly the neatest thing about this book is its design. Half traditional novel, half graphic novel, Selznick riffs on his silent-movie theme by interspersing chunks of wordless illustrations with regular narration. Illustration, in fact, may be the wrong word, because that connotes words that explicate the text, and that's not the case here. Instead, the storytelling medium moves gracefully from words to pictures and back to words, trusting in both to tell the story.

It could just be a gimmick book, except that Selznick's got the storytelling chops to draw us into this story of 20th-century Paris and the world of silent film. In the end, we barely notice the transition because the story has enveloped us.

This one might be a hand-sell for librarians everywhere because of its intimidating bulk (550 pages!), but I guarantee, the minute you flip it open to the first of Selznick's black-and-white illustrations, that book will be out of your hands and on the checkout counter.

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