Tuesday, January 15, 2008

an artful novel

The Caldecott Medal was announced yesterday for "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," by Brian Selznick. I'd just finished reading (assimilating?) the book, which is an artful arrangement of text and graphics. Interestingly, the book was a candidate both for the Newbery Medal, for a written novel, and the Caldecott, for a graphic illustration book, showing a new interest in a greater blending of the two mediums for telling a story. Unlike a graphic novel, with its steady progression of graphic panels, or a typical illustrated novel with perhaps only a graphic plate introducing each chapter, 'Hugo' is interspersed with multiple pages of text followed by one and two page spreads of artistic, shaded black and white drawings. Sometimes the drawings taken together illustrate only fleeting seconds in the action of the storyline, like successive still frames of a motion picture. Indeed, part of the storyline deals with the lost career of a French cinematographer dating from the early years of motion pictures.

Hugo, a young boy, lives in the apartment of his uncle, which is buried in the labyrinthine inner passages of the massive central train station in Paris. Hugo's father has died in a fire at a museum where he worked, and Hugo has been taken in and trained by his uncle, to assist him in maintaining all the clocks in the train station in good, accurate condition. However, the uncle has mysteriously disappeared, and Hugo struggles to keep the clocks running. He does not want to report his uncle's disappearance for fear he'll be turned out of the station, but he has to pilfer his food from shop owners in the station just to survive. In addition to his timekeeper duties, the mechanically talented Hugo is trying to restore a mechanical man, an automaton, that his father found in museum discards and gave to him. The automaton, a gear-driven marvel that can write and draw pictures, becomes the key to the mystery surrounding Georges Melies, the famous cinematographer, now a poor, novelty shop owner in the train station, and his adopted daughter, Isabelle, Hugo's newfound friend.

Five hundred pages of story and art that go together seamlessly and in just a couple of evenings of intriguing reading.

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