The Invention of Hugo Cabaret
Scholastic Press, 2007
National Book Award Winner
Both of his parents have died, so Hugo Cabaret lives with his uncle inside of the clock room at the train station in London. He’s inherited his father’s ability to tinker with toys and anything that has working gears, parts, and pieces. Before the fire, his father happened upon a mechanical man that was calibrated to draw or write something as part of a magic act. Obsessed with the machine, Hugo steals parts from a local toy manufacturer in the train station in order to complete it and make it work. However, things begin to complicate when his uncle completely disappears and Hugo gets caught stealing. In a matter of only a few days, his mysterious and tenuous world again becomes dangerous, and the most surprising things happen as a result of the mechanical man.
This was surprisingly well done. I’m not sure what I was initially expecting, but the story far exceeded my expectations. The characters are interesting, and the graphic-novel style way of presenting the story is perfect for how it unfolds and the subject matter being used to move along the plot. Typically, I steer clear of saying things like, “this is the first of its kind” because that gets thrown around a lot as a marketing term. However, this is something of a first, especially as an award winner, and Selznick does a wonderful job of interlacing the pictures with the words in order to tell a complete story.
Even beyond that though, the story itself is wonderful, despite the method through which it’s told. The characters are all fascinating and mysterious in their own way, and everyone has secrets. Not to mention that each character’s personality and foibles adds to the depth of the narrative. I recommend this to all readers, but it will come alive especially well for readers 8-12.
For the Classroom
This novel has a wealth of elements that can be used to make it a good classroom companion. First, there are historical characters and a historical overview of the invention of the moving picture and how it affected France at the time. Second, the inner workings of the science and mechanics for reel-to-reel film, wind up toys, clocks, and other mechanical things are highlighted throughout the text. Lastly, the graphic novel aspect is especially interesting for artists and writers, so it would be a great book to use for a writing or art class as a way to encourage students to think outside of the box by combining or creating new mediums.