The 2008 Caldecott Committee made a bold decision in selecting Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret as its Medal winner. A 544-page novel as best picture book? It did have 158 illustrations central to the telling of the story, and the committee decided it was a new form of picture book.
Now, Selznick is back with Wonderstruck, an even bigger novel. As in Hugo Cabret, artwork tells much of the story, two independent threads of visual and prose narrative weaving in and out, eventually coming together as the protagonists meet and their stories join. Young Ben’s prose narrative begins in 1977, at Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, and young Rose’s visual narrative begins in 1927, in Hoboken, New Jersey. Both characters yearn for a better life, trying to find their places in the world. Ben’s mother has died, and his journey takes him to New York City in search of the father he never knew. Rose is deaf and her parents are protective, but she, too, is lured by the big city.
Selznick’s pencil drawings perfectly capture Rose’s heartbreakingly earnest expressions, and a full-page spread evokes in careful detail the “cabinets of wonders,” early museum displays of objects that evoke the wonders of the world. By the end of the novel, Ben wonders if we’re not all collectors of objects, moments and experiences, “making our own cabinet of wonders” during our lives. This becomes the novel’s theme: being open to the wonders of the world.
Not everyone is open to being wonderstruck, but Ben and Rose are; as they say (in a line borrowed from Oscar Wilde), “We are all in the gutter, but some of u[Tue Mar 11 14:52:52 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. s are looking at the stars.”Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.
Brian Selznick didn't have to do it.
He didn't have to return to the groundbreaking pictures-and-text format that stunned the children's-book world in 2007 and won him an unlikely—though entirely deserved—Caldecott medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Weighing in at about two pounds, the 500-plus page tome combined textual and visual storytelling in a way no one had quite seen before.
In a world where the new becomes old in the blink of an eye, Selznick could have honorably rested on his laurels and returned to the standard 32-to-48–page picture-book format he has already mastered. He didn't have to try to top himself.
But he has.
If Hugo Cabret was a risky experiment that succeeded beyond Selznick and publisher Scholastic's wildest dreams (well, maybe not Scholastic's—they dream big), his follow-up, Wonderstruck, is a far riskier enterprise. In replicating the storytelling format of Hugo, Selznick begs comparisons that could easily find Wonderstruck wanting or just seem stale.
Like its predecessor, this self-described "novel in words and pictures" opens with a cinematic, multi-page, wordless black-and-white sequence: Two wolves lope through a wooded landscape, the illustrator's "camera" zooming in to the eye of one till readers are lost in its pupil. The scene changes abruptly, to Gunflint Lake, Minn., in 1977. Prose describes how Ben Wilson, age 12, wakes from a nightmare about wolves. He's three months an orphan, living with his aunt and cousins after his mother's death in an automobile accident; he never knew his father. Then the scene cuts again, to Hoboken in 1927. A sequence of Selznick's now-trademark densely crosshatched black-and-white drawings introduces readers to a girl, clearly lonely, who lives in an attic room that looks out at New York City and that is filled with movie-star memorabilia and models—scads of them—of the skyscrapers of New York.
Readers know that the two stories will converge, but Selznick keeps them guessing, cutting back and forth with expert precision. Both children leave their unhappy homes and head to New York City, Ben hoping to find his father and the girl also in search of family. The girl, readers learn, is deaf; her silent world is brilliantly evoked in wordless sequences, while Ben's story unfolds in prose. Both stories are equally immersive and impeccably paced.
The two threads come together at the American Museum of Natural History, Selznick's words and pictures communicating total exhilaration (and conscious homage to The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Hugo brought the bygone excitement of silent movies to children; Wonderstruck shows them the thrilling possibilities of museums in a way Night at the Museum doesn't even bother to.
Visually stunning, completely compelling, Wonderstruck demonstrates a mastery and maturity that proves that, yes, lightning can strike twice. (Historical fiction. 9 & up)Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Selznick follows his Caldecott-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret with another illustrated novel that should cement his reputation as one of the most innovative storytellers at work today. Ben and Rose are both hearing-impaired. He is 12 in 1977; she is the same age 50 years earlier. Selznick tells their story in prose and pictures beginning with Ben, living (unhappily) with his aunt and uncle, 83 steps from the Minnesota lake cabin he shared with his librarian mother until her death in a car accident three months earlier. He has never met his father, but has reason to believe he may live in New York. As in Hugo Cabret, a significant part of the story is told in sequential illustrations, most of which depict the even unhappier Rose, whose movie star mother has remarried, leaving her daughter with her ex-husband in New Jersey. Both children run away to Manhattan seeking something from their respective absent parents. It takes several hundred pages and a big chunk of exposition to connect these two strands, but they converge in an emotionally satisfying way. Selznick masterfully uses pencil and paper like a camera, starting a sequence with a wide shot and zooming in on details on successive pages. Key scenes occur when the runaways find themselves in one of Manhattan's storied museums, and with one character named Jamie, and Rose's surname being Kincaid, it's impossible not to think of E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, to which Selznick tips his hat in an author's note. Like that Newbery winner, Selznick's story has the makings of a kid-pleasing classic. Ages 9-up. (Sept.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 4-8--Using the format he so brilliantly introduced in The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007), Selznick tells two parallel stories. The first, taking place in 1977, is told through words. Ben Wilson lives in Gunflint, MN. His mother has just died, and he doesn't know the whereabouts of his father. Disaster ensues when Ben is struck by lightning and loses the hearing in his one good ear. He runs away from his aunt and uncle and goes in search of his father. Parallel to Ben's story, and told through illustrations, is the story of Rose, a deaf child who lives in Hoboken, NJ, in 1927, with her overbearing father. She lives in a room that feels more like a prison, where she keeps a scrapbook of her silent-film star mother and builds models of New York City. Both Ben and Rose escape to New York and are drawn to the American Museum of Natural History. It is there that they find the connections they are seeking. The way that the stories of Ben and Rose echo one another, and then finally connect, is a thing of wonder to behold. The dual text/illustration format is not a gimmick when used to tell the right stories; the combination provides an emotional experience that neither the words nor the illustrations could achieve on their own.--Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO[Page 120]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.