• It’s the birth date of Padraic Colum (1881–1972), The Children's Homer, and James Thurber (1894–1961), Many Moons, The 13 Clocks.
  • It’s also the birthday of roman lyric poet Horace (65–8 B.C.) Read Horace by Holly Keller and Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores by James Howe, illustrated by Amy Walrod.
  • The first acknowledgment on national television that women sometimes are pregnant occurs on an episode of I Love Lucy in 1952. Read It’s So Amazing! by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley and Where Did That Baby Come From? By Debi Gliori.

On December 8, 1861, Georges MĂ©liès was born in Paris, France. He became one of the first French filmmakers, renowned for his creative development of motion pictures. Delighting in special effects, MĂ©liès explored time-lapse photography and hand-painted color in films. His most famous movie, A Trip to the Moon (1902), features a scene where a spaceship lands on the eye of the man in the moon. It’s reasonable to say that prior to 2007 only a handful of children or adults in America would have heard of MĂ©liès and his work. Although today he is not exactly a household name, many reading this column already have figured out the book up for discussion, Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The filmmaker definitely gets star treatment in the new movie, Hugo, based on Brian’s book.

In a 534 page novel every bit as revolutionary as Méliès films, Selznick pays tribute to the French filmmaker as he takes six- to fourteen-year-old readers along on an adventure told half in text and half in pictures. The design of this book immediately catches the attention of readers. It is, in fact, one of the best designed volumes of the decade. Besides the cover, which displays the only color in the book, the story is told in a black-and-white format, one that resembles the motion pictures of the early 1900s. Our hero, twelve-year-old Hugo, orphan and thief, lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station at the turn of the twentieth century. Before Hugo’s father died, he had been working on an automaton, trying to get the robot to function; Hugo also becomes obsessed with making this mechanical man work. But one day when stealing toys from a shopkeeper at the station, Hugo gets caught. Ultimately this exchange brings our birthday boy, Georges Méliès, out of hiding. Even the subplots of this sprawling novel have subplots; and because so much of the story is told in art, every reader has a slightly different version of what happens in the book.

Although The Invention of Hugo Cabret has 534 pages, the text is frequently broken by picture sequences. Hence it seems easier to read than it looks. That has been one of the greatest advantages of this book. Even reluctant third and fourth grade readers find themselves swept along, many of them finishing a large book for the first time—one that can be proudly displayed to family and friends. “I read this book four times,” one youngster wrote. ”I was nine years old the first time I read it.”

I’ve seen these children, often holding two or three copies of this impressive tome, standing in lines for hours to get an autograph from their hero, Brian Selznick. In the past few years The Invention of Hugo Cabret and the novels ofRick Riordan have been our silver bullets when it comes to enticing children into reading.

Happy birthday, Georges; and thank you Brian. Throughout your career you have given children so many incredible books—but you endeared yourself to millions with The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Here’s a section from The Invention of Hugo Cabret:

From his perch behind the clock, Hugo could see everything. He rubbed his fingers nervously against the small notebook in his pocket and told himself to be patient.

The old man in the toy booth was arguing with the girl. She was about Hugo’s age, and he often saw her go into the booth with a book under her arm and disappear behind the counter.

The old man looked agitated today. Had he figured out some of his toys were missing? Well, there was nothing to be done about that now.

Hugo needed the toys.


Originally posted December 8, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Caldecott, Film, History
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Invention of Hugo Cabret


  1. Star says:

    I’ll have to check this out. It almost seems a bit like Nick Bantock-style books for kids!

  2. What’s interesting about The Invention of Hugo Cabret is that on the one hand it entices children to read it because of the pictures. They think they are going to get an easier time of it than reading hundreds of type written pages. They can fly through the pictures much faster – and that’s true. But on the other hand wordless picture narrative is very complicated because the reader has to verbalize the story for him or herself. There are some sequences throughout this book where you actually need to go through the pages quickly since they are set up like frames for a kinetoscope and then there are others where you need to spend time looking at how the story unfolds within a single picture. And, as you pointed out Anita, this allows each reader to have a different version or interpretation of the story. Like the silent movies of the past, Selznick tells us a sophisticated story which is as complex and shaded as his gray crosshatched illustrations.

  3. I’m doing a year-long study on Charlie Chaplin with my 4th grade this year and so decided to read this aloud at the start of the year. Wasn’t quite sure how I’d do it, but it worked beautifully. As Peter above noted it really does have a kinescopic and/or silent movie sensibility. Much as I knew that when I read it on my own (numerous times as I was on the Newbery Committee that year:), it became much clearer when reading it to a group of kids.

  4. Anita says:

    Star, Peter, and Monica:

    Thanks for the comments. Brian’s use of artwork — to set the story, show closeups, and pull back out for the story line — does distinguish the book. But because of the important role the illustrations play, I would not have thought this book a good candidate for a read aloud. Thanks, Monica, for sharing your experience. I’m going to go back and look at the text, alone, again.


  5. G.Perry says:

    When I first saw this book, the door stop size and weight of it put me off. I thumbed through it, and thought it was a strange duck, so I actually didn’t focus on it long enough to give it a chance. That was a mistake.

    After reading Anita’s review I went back and just read it today. This was a very creative work. The black and white images made me think of the film work in one of my favorite films, The 400 Blows.

    It only took a couple of hours to read and it was great fun.

  6. Having now seen the movie I love G. Perry’s mention of The 400 Blows because it was one of the movie references I noted in HUGO.

  7. Bookjeannie says:

    I was so apprehensive, and stubborn, about the idea of taking a book that was mostly sketches and turning it into a movie that I didn’t know if I could see it. A 3D movie, no less. Well, I loved the book so much, I HAD to see what Scorsese did. I think the general public, especially those who did not read the book, will think it is slow. I even thought so but I loved it. And the 3D was perfect, especially inside the clock towers. My husband surprised me, he loved it! One of my 5th grade girls said it was her new favorite movie & she had not read it. I exclaimed, “WHAT?! You have to read it!” I’m sure she has by now. Anita, can’t wait to hear what you think of WONDERSTRUCK. Loved it, too!

  8. Beverly says:

    I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret, although I’m a bit of a traditionalist and had reservations about its winning the Caldecott. Then I read the book and I can see why it won. The pictures play such a big role in moving the story along. When the movie came out, I went to see it opening day. Scorsese stayed true to the book, down to the design on the air vents. I’m waiting to read Wonderstruck–I let a child check it out of the library ahead of me, but I made him promise to bring it back so I can read it.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.