Museums are great places to discover and to hide. In Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, New York’s American Museum of Natural History becomes the focus for both in two stories, fifty years apart.
Selznick uses the same style of graphics with text that he created in The Invention of Hugo Cabret; he tells one story using only words, and the other using only illustrations. Eventually, the two stories merge in a clever connection of two lives.
The book is extraordinarily thick, only because at least half is taken up with full-page black and white illustrations that might remind you of Chris Van Allsburg’s style in The Polar Express. Some of the pictures overlap, but most tell the life of a young deaf girl, Rose, who ran away from her New Jersey home to New York City in the 1920s, looking for her mother and a better life. The text tells the story of Ben, a young deaf boy in the 1970s, running away from Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, to New York City to find his father. The museum is central to both their lives and families, and helps them find each other.
Historical information in the book references the New York World’s Fair and the introduction of the “talkies” – the movies that changed the silent picture show with captions to sound, and inadvertently eliminated the deaf from the movie-going audience. The history of museums as collections in rooms of wonder, with accompanying illustrations, provides the transition to the modern storyline.
Although not as suspenseful as The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick’s Wonderstruck offers another children’s book that mixes history and information within a fairy tale come true – a book worth taking the time to browse through.
Read the review of The Invention of Hugo Cabret – here