Travel Through Children’s Books

Tours that follow an author can be inviting. Literature tours in England follow Austen and Bronte;  New England in the United States attracts followers of Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  A friend gave me an article from the Wall Street Journal – Going By the Children’s Book – with Liam Callahan’s suggestions for touring Paris through children’s book authors.   Although I have often dreamed of following Julia Child through France, his itinerary also has appeal:

  • Bemelmans’ Madeleine captures Paris from Sacre Coeur to the Jardin des Tuileries;
  • Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon (a film before it became a book) floats through Montmartre;
  • Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret looks back at the famous train station and local streets.

Callahan provides a map with tangential adventures, the possibility of buying a book store, and additional books to inspire your literary trip:

  • Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock
  • Paris in the Spring with Picasso by Yolleck and Prideman

My favorite is Rupert Kingfisher’s  Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles – “selling all kinds of rare and exotic delicacies” – a culinary adventure – but Julia Child would wonder over the cobra brains in black butter.

Hugo Cabret – the movie

The magic of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret comes to life in Martin Scorsese’s movie “Hugo.”  If you’ve read the book about an orphaned boy who lives in the Paris train station, while secretly repairing an automaton left behind by his watchmaker father, and discovers the famous Georges Méliès and his films – you will not be disappointed in this faithful screen adaptation.   Scorsese’s camera angles and period piece Parisian scenes just add to the spell.

Look for the Cameos in the Movie

Selznick’s unique book combining black and white illustrations with historical fiction melds into a film with actors perfectly suited to each role, and, just for fun, some cameos that add a wink of recognition to some.  The treasure hunt for famous faces includes:

  • Martin Scorsese himself – look for him as a photographer near the glass movie studio
  • Johnny Depp, co-producer of the film – look for him playing a guitar in the train station.

Others you’ll know by their names:

  • Francesca Scorsese, daughter of the famous director – look for her dancing with her young friends near the cafe in the train station
  • and the author himself, Brian Selznick, has a line in the last scene
Related Reviews:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret



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

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.