Book Review: “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”

I read an article recently on the internet called “50 Books Every Parent Should Read to Their Child”. Many of the suggestions I had already read, like “Where The Wild Things Are” and “The Paper Bag Princess” (a personal favourite), but I decided to make my way through the others on the list.

When I got handed  “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by my local librarian, I could not believe it. This was supposed to be a book for readers under 10?! The book was over 500 pages. Surely someone had made a mistake!

Then I took a closer look at the book written by Brian Selznick, and I realized that many of the pages were pictures and other pages had only a few words written on them. So don’t be turned off by the size.

The story was inspired by a true character, Georges Melies, an early film pioneer, who also had a collection of automata (non-electronic moving machines). The author then based his story on a boy finding an automaton.

The main character, Hugo, is convinced that the automaton that he is trying to fix holds a message from his late father. But when the message is finally received, it leads to some unexpected results.

I enjoyed the format. The book is meant to be told like a movie. I originally thought that having words interrupted by pictures would be jarring. But the page turns are brilliant, and at times even heart stopping.

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” won the Caldecott Medal in 2008. To read Brian Selznick’s acceptance speech, click here.

 

For more on automata, Brian Selznick recommends The Franklin Institute:

Learning by studying picture books

We are working like snails through the Ann Whitford Paul book called “Writing Picture Books” in the Word by Word Facebook group, but that is probably a good pace. We do a chapter a week, which consists of a reading and then homework. This homework includes reading at least one new picture book per week.

A new picture book I read recently, which was recommended to me by someone in a another group, is called “The Day the Crayons Quit” (ages 3-7). The book is written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, and it is one of the current bestsellers.

A group of crayons has a bunch of concerns, such as being overworked or ignored, which they wish their owner, Duncan, to address. So they write him a series of letters. How will Duncan make the crayons happy?

While studying this book, I noticed a couple of things that I had learned from Ann Whitford Paul. First of all, the author writes in the rather unique point of view called mask voice, using the voice of the crayons. In some of the homework exercises, Whitford Paul asks us to play around with point of view. Traditionally, most children’s picture books are told in the same way, in the third person. Changing the point of view may make the book stand out. It certainly does in this case.

Another thing Whitford Paul mentions is that the books that become bestsellers must appeal to both adults, who are the gatekeepers, and children. But children and adults often have different tastes. When you come across a book that appeals to both, you have a winner. In this case, my daughter and I loved it. She read it first, and then she could not wait for me to read it to her. And I admit it, I laughed harder than she did at some parts.

This book is one that is worth reading to your child and one worth studying, if you are a children’s book author.

Websites and Facebook Groups for Writers

I find it isolating to be a writer in my hometown, so I have been turning to the internet for support. I have joined a number of writing groups, which I have found to be very motivating. We writers need to support each other, and this is one excellent way to do so. Here are several groups I recommend:

 

1. Chapter book challenge

Although the challenge is over for 2013, you can sign up for next year’s challenge on the website. There is also a very supportive Facebook group, which operates year round. We don’t always talk about chapter books though. For example, Becky Fyfe, who heads up the chapter book challenge, has decided to branch out into putting together anthologies, and through the group and her website, you will be able to keep up with the opportunities. Joining this group helped me get my start in the book world! I have two stories in the chapter book challenge’s first anthology called “Teapot Tales”, which is available on Amazon. Soon to come out is the female superhero anthology, in which I have one tale. I am really looking forward to seeing my name in print again.

 

 

2. Wow Nonficpic

The nonfiction picture book challenge, run by Kristen Fulton, is another one I signed up for this year. You can sign up for next year’s challenge anytime through her website. You can also sign up for the Facebook group, run year round, here.

Through this informative group, I have been introduced to other helpful groups. For example, another Facebook group Kristen Fulton leads is the agent/editor discussion group, which is currently running “Bingo”. Bingo has been a fun challenge. We were asked to choose a bingo card with words like fiction and common core on it. Every time a word is called, we are challenged to do a related task. For example, when critique was called, our task was to critique someone else’s manuscript.

I find the tasks have been helpful. They are ones I might not normally do, and I have learned a lot. For instance, when admire was the word called, we were asked to write a letter to an author we admire. I have never thought of doing that, but it is something that I would like to do more often. I will repeat it: we writers need to support each other as much as possible. So I wrote a letter to Natalie Hyde, an author I have always admired. And she’s a Cambridge girl too! Even better, she wrote me back with a lot of valuable advice!

So far, no one has gotten bingo, but I am pretty close…

Also I heard about the Word by Word book club through this FB group, and I am really enjoying being a member. We are working through Ann Whitford Paul’s book called “Writing Picture Books”. We do a chapter a week. I had already read this book, but find it very beneficial to work through it again. This week’s challenge was to write a manuscript in a different point of view, and I loved it. It made my character come alive when I changed from writing in the third person to the first person. Why not try it?

3. Mama Scout Wellness challenge

This is not strictly a writing group, although this month’s challenge is to write every day. But I have found that the group has enhanced my creativity, as I have worked through the assigned tasks. Amy Bowers gives us our daily/monthly assignments. The group is very supportive and positive!  Gain access to the group through Amy Power’s website.

 

So what are you doing these days?