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

Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride

Today is Amelia Earhart’s birthday; she would have been 104, or maybe still is somewhere on a tropical island.  Amelia’s plane went down on July 2, 1937 en route from New Guinea -never to be found.  In looking for other books illustrated by Brian Selznick (author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret), I found Pam Munoz Ryan’s children’s story about Earhart’s famous friendship with First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt – Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride.

Ryan stays close to the historical facts: the two women were friends, the famous aviator did offer to be Eleanor’s flight instructor – Eleanor went as far as getting her student pilot license – and the famous night flight over Washington, D.C. in the story really happened.

Aside from the biographical information of the two women, Ryan offers children a look into the wonder of flying a small plane, and the magic of night flying in one.  Anyone who has experienced the majesty of flying into National Airport at night, amid the lights of the Washington Monument and the Capitol Dome, will appreciate Ryan’s description. But it was the wonder of flying in a small plane at night that brought back good memories to me.

Related Post:  Review of The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Combining two inventions – the automaton and the movies – Brian Selznick creates a children’s book that adults will enjoy  –  The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  The size and weight of the book took me by surprise – it’s huge – until I realized that Selznick had created a picture book with a story.  Not quite a graphic novel – there are as many words as pictures.  The story focuses on a twelve-year-old Parisian orphan boy, who secretly maintains the clocks in the railroad station after his old uncle, the station timekeeper, dies.

The automaton, a mechanical man who writes a message,  rescued by Hugo’s father from the fire of an old museum is Hugo’s only company, as he tries to survive in his uncle’s old apartment above the station.  He steals milk and croissants to eat, and pockets coins that travelers have dropped.  He hides in the secret passageways above the station floor, watching the old man who runs the toy booth in the station, and waits for his chance to steal small mechanical toys so that he can use the parts to repair the automaton – until one day he is caught.

The old man recognizes the drawings in Hugo’s treasured notebook, and confiscates it in exchange for Hugo’s repair work at the toy booth.  Eventually, the identity of the toy booth’s owner is revealed – with the help of the automaton and Hugo’s new friends, Isabelle and Etienne – but not before a scary chase and cliff-hanging moments.

Selznick’s moves the action with art that resembles Chris van Allsburg’s illustrations in The Polar Express.  Instead of telling about the chase, he illustrates it through several pages of black and white sketches, and more effectively involves the reader as Hugo hides behind a wall or looks out with a frightened eye or heel of a shoe that takes up the whole page.

As with the real automaton – on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – that inspired the story, the inventor is revealed by the machine’s writing and drawing. Selznick uses his automaton to provide clues that Isabelle and Hugo follow to a happy ending that includes a famous film-maker.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a touching book, based on some historical facts, that you will want to read aloud to children as you follow the pictures together, or savor yourself on a quiet afternoon.

Read it before the Martin Scorsese movie version – “Hugo”- comes out in November.