The Invention of Hugo Cabret


The Invention of Hugo Cabret

by Brian Selznick

New York: Scholastic Press, 2007

533 pp.

Ages: 8 +

Interests: mystery, Paris,history, clocks, magicians, automata (robots), silent movie history, stories about orphans, inventors

Also by this author: Wonderstruck, The Houdini Box, The Robot King, Boy of a Thousand Faces

Next: silent movies by Georges Méliès; official website of the book; movie adaptation Hugo (2011)

An orphan named Hugo lives alone behind the walls of the Paris train station in 1931. He winds the clocks and keeps his own secrets, afraid of detection for fear of being sent to an orphanage. He also has a great mystery to solve, one he inherited from his father, a mystery which involves fixing a small clockwork figure sitting at a table holding a pen. Hugo wants to find out what the figure would write if it worked. As he tinkers with the automaton Hugo falls in with a bitter old man who runs a toy stall, and the man’s goddaughter Isabelle. Hugo finally fixes the automaton and winds it up, but the results only deepen the mystery… all leading back to Isabelle and her godfather.

There’s an awful lot of buzz around this book and it’s entirely warranted. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an enthralling mystery which should entrance young readers. A great brick of a book, this volume alternates between sections of text and sequences of graphic novel-style illustrations which keep the action and drama moving along. It’s 550 pages long, but I read it quite easily in one evening. One could read this book aloud to a child, but I think it would be an even better ‘independent read’, a wonderful book to get children hooked on reading, as it’s impossible to put down once you start it.

The illustrations – atmospheric pencil sketches with painstaking period detail – are riveting, enhancing the mystery and making the character’s adventures more vivid.

Other bonuses – this book can spark a child’s interest in silent movie history and Georges Méliès, in Paris history, magic, automata, Paris, clockworks, inventors, magicians, artists, etc. etc. (NB. At the book’s official website you can watch the Méliès film A Trip to the Moon that is referred to in the book.)

A gripping mystery, a period setting, moody illustrations, and a spare, dramatic style. No violence, just loads of suspense. The capable and determined hero learns how to trust others and accept their help. Curiosity leads him into great difficulties, but it also leads to a pretty wonderful outcome in the end.

This is a terrific book to give an 8, 9, 10-year-old, or older. (It’s still pretty enthralling for adult readers!)

(This title available at


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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