Sunday, February 17, 2008

"The Invention of Hugo Cabret"

You know that any book that features an automaton, a picture of Harold Lloyd, steam engines and film pioneer Georges Méliès as a character is going to be more than just all right. It's a kids' book, but I had to borrow it from the library for all the reasons I stated above. I loved the book - especially its dark and moody illustrations. The book's narrative device, particularly in the opening chapters, is equally interesting. It almost reads like a cross between a screenplay, a comic book and a novel. (And look who's going to be directing the film.)

If I had to point out the one (minor) problem I had with the book, it's with the idea of "life's purpose" and the way it has been employed in the story. The story's lead character, Hugo Cabret, wonders if his life has a purpose and naturally, he has an epiphany about his life's mission by the end of the story.

Come on. Should a children's book talk explicitly about one's life's purpose? I don't think so. That stuff belongs in self-help books. Children's books should be about wild and crazy adventures. Like hiding in a railway station in Paris or sneaking into a theater and watching silent classics or fixing a broken automaton.

But that irritant aside, "Hugo Cabret" is a lot of fun. There can't be a more entertaining way to introduce children to the mysterious world of clocks, robots, trains and classic black-and-white cinema. (Though I think what will blow any child's mind is when he or she learns that the book's central plot is a true story.)

NYT recently ran a profile on author-illustrator Brian Selznick.

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