The Invention of Hugo Cabret written and illustrated by Brian Selznick:
When The Invention of Hugo Cabret was announced as the winner of the Caldecott Award in 2008, I remember there being a lot of buzz about it, because this book is so very different from the picture books that usually win the award. The book is huge, ending at page 525 and is a complex novel as well as pictures that help move the story along. So, yes, very different from a picture book, but just as worthy of its accolades.
To summarize the story, Hugo is a young boy, orphaned and living in a train station in Paris in the early 1930s. His father was a clockmaker who tragically died in a fire. Hugo's alcoholic uncle brings him to live in the train station with him, as his clock-worker apprentice. But then one day, the uncle never returns home and Hugo must maintain the station clocks by himself for fear of being discovered and sent to an orphanage (which, really, might not be a bad solution to his problem). The plot is very complex for the age level the book is geared towards (9-12 year-olds), but I think readers of any age will appreciate that it moves quickly. In the story, we meet the toy shop keeper and his daughter, a man with a patch over his eye, and an automaton, a machine that looks like a man, that Hugo's father, before his death, was trying to fix in order to discover what message it would write.
For me, the highlight of the book is the artwork. The drawings were done in pencil on watercolor paper. It's amazing how much depth and detail the author/illustrator is able to achieve with such limited tools. And considering the number of illustrations in the story, this was no small feat. I really love the beginning of the book, in which there is a picture of the moon. Then the moon gets smaller. Then smaller. As the moon gets smaller, we get more detail: the Parisian skyline. The farther away we get, the more detail we get......what a great concept! While I enjoyed the story, I think the real strength of the novel are the illustrations. It's really a pleasure just to flip through the book, without even reading the story, and just enjoy the beautiful artwork.
I know it's a minor point, but the title strikes me as being off. Hugo doesn't actually invent anything. He fixes the automaton, but that's different than inventing. Unless I missed that detail somewhere in the story, I think a different title would have better served the book.
I read the book on CD, but if you do that, make sure you also have a hard copy of the book on hand so that you can look through all the illustrations along with the story. It would be a shame to miss out on the visual aspect of this novel....that's the real star of this show.