Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Brian Selznick
For ages 8 to 12
Scholastic, 2007   ISBN: 978-0439813785

Meet Hugo Cabret, a boy who lives behind the walls in the Paris train station. Not long ago Hugo was living happily with his father and having a pretty normal sort of existence. His father, a clockmaker and clock mender, had a shop of his own and he also did some work for the local museum. In the attic of the museum Hugo’s father found a peculiar clockwork automaton. It had been beautifully made but was now very rusted and in need of repair. Hugo’s father was not sure how the machine worked but he was determined to do his best to get the clockwork man writing again. What would he write when his key was turned?

Unfortunately Hugo’s father died in a fire at the museum and Hugo’s uncle took him to live with him. His uncle was the timekeeper at the Paris train station. It was his job to keep all the clocks in the station running smoothly. It was not long before Hugo’s uncle was leaving Hugo alone to do most of the work that needed to be done on a daily basis. When Hugo’s uncle did not come home at all for several days Hugo decided to run away. He did not get far though. He ended up at the burned out shell of the museum where his father had died, and in the ruins he found the clockwork automaton. Before he quite knew what he was doing Hugo took the automaton and carried it back to the little room in which he had been living in the Paris train station.

Hugo now had a purpose – to get the automaton to work again. He used one of his father’s old notebooks to help him, and he stole clockwork toys from a toyshop in the station so that he could take them apart and get the parts that he needed.

When we first see Hugo it is just before he gets caught by the owner of the toy store. The old man is furious and though he does not call the authorities, he does take away Hugo’s father’s notebook. Desperately Hugo tries to get it back. He even asks the girl who lives with the old man, Isabelle, for help. Hugo is sure that he will never be able to fix the automaton unless he is able to get that precious notebook back.

In the end Hugo is able to fix the automaton without the notebook after all, and using a key that Isabelle has hanging around her neck, he is able to get the extraordinary device to work. The automaton creates a drawing which Hugo and Isabelle discover is somehow connected to the old man who owns the toyshop. There is a mystery to be uncovered, one which connects Hugo’s father with the old man, and the automaton lies at the heart of it all. Will Hugo be able to unravel it before his own secret world comes crashing down around his ears?

In this extraordinary book readers will meet a boy who is desperately trying to reconnect with his dead father and who is also trying to find some purpose to his life. As a result of his efforts he ends up giving purpose back to one of the greatest early film makers, Georges Melies. Hugo helps remind the world, and Georges himself, that Georges was a visionary artist who changed the world of film forever.

By combining incredibly emotive illustrations with his unique story, Brian Selznick has created a new kind of book. The artwork does not compliment the text in the traditional way that one expects in a picture book. Instead it is part of the storytelling experience, carrying the tale forward much as the words do, but in a visual way. The overall effect is often startling and it is certainly memorable and powerful.