One-Minute Book Reviews

April 21, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’

 

10 Discussion Questions for Young Readers
The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures
By Brian Selznick

Take a 12-year-old orphan whose name begins with H. Write a novel about him that involves magic, a train station and a female sidekick. Get Scholastic Press to publish it … and what do you have? No, not a new Harry Potter book. You’ve got The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a novel about a young thief who lives in a Paris train station and tries to finish a project begun by his father – fixing a broken wind-up man or automaton that may contain a secret message. In this innovative book, Brian Selznick merges the picture- and chapter-book formats. The Invention of Hugo Cabret has 533 pages, but the text would fill only 100 or so pages of most novels. Why? Selznick tells Hugo’s story alternately through words and 158 black-and-white pictures. The illustrations are mostly pencil drawings but include memorable stills from the movies of the filmmaker Georges Méliès, whose life helped to inspire the book.

Question 1
This book is called The Invention of Hugo Cabret. What is Hugo’s “invention”? Could the word refer to more than one thing? Could Hugo have “invented” a new life for himself (or for someone else) in addition to a mechanical man?

Question 2
Brian Selznick tells Hugo’s story in a unique way. He uses a lot more pictures than you find in most novels. Sometimes he tells Hugo’s story in words and sometimes in pictures. Why do you think he did this? How did you like it? What are some advantages and disadvantages of having so many pictures in a novel?

Question 3
Selznick also uses only black-and-white pictures on the pages of in this novel, no color ones. What are some reasons why he might have done this? Some authors say that they like to use black-and-white art because it lets people use their imagination and fill in the colors in their minds. Did you “fill in” any colors while you were reading the book? What are some of the colors you saw in your mind? Why?

Question 4
A lot of other authors have at times used only black-and-white pictures. For example, Chris Van Allsburg has done this in some books. And all of the pictures that Matt Phelan did for Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, winner of the 2007 Newbery Award, are black-and-white. What books have you read that have only black-and-white illustrations? How do they compare to The Invention of Hugo Cabret?

Question 5
You may have noticed that a lot of the drawings in this book look as though they have something draped over them. It’s as though you’re looking at the pictures through a veil or net. Can you think of any reasons why Selznick might have used this technique? Does it make the story seem a little more mysterious? Does it remind you of the lenses you can put on a camera, including a movie camera?

Question 6
Hugo loves a movie called The Million that he and Isabelle go to a theater to see. It has an “amazing” chase in it. “He thought every good story should end with a big, exciting chase.” [Page 202] Why do you Selznick wrote that? What happens right after it in The Invention of Hugo Cabret?

Question 7
Hugo spends a lot of time trying to fix things like clocks or the mechanical man, or automaton, that he finds on the street. He likes machines because each one has a purpose. “Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do,” Hugo says. He adds, “Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose … it’s like you’re broken.” [Page 374] How does this relate to the rest of the novel?

Question 8
The story of Prometheus is important in The Invention of Hugo Cabret. There’s a picture of Prometheus on pages 344–345. We learn that he was “finally set free” from his chains. What character or characters in this book does he resemble?

Question 9
Hugo’s friend Isabelle loves looking at photographs. She says, “You can make up your own story when you look at a photo.” [Page 193] Pick a photograph in The Invention of Hugo Cabret and make up a story to go with it. You might start with the picture of the man hanging from the clock on pages 173–174 or with the picture of the rocket crashing into the moon on pages 352–353.

Question 10
Hugo thinks it’s his fault that his father had died in a fire. [Page 124] Do you agree or disagree with him? Why?

Extras:
Question 11
If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books or seen the movies, you may have noticed that the Invention of Hugo Cabret has some things in common with them. What are some of them?

Question 12
Often a novel is written by one person and illustrated by another. That’s because not many people are equally good at writing and drawing. Most of us are better at one or the other. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is unusual in that Selznick both wrote and illustrated it. Do you think he was better at writing or drawing? Which did you like better in his novel, the words or the pictures? Why?

Vital statistics:
The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures. By Brian Selznick. Scholastic, 533 pp., $22.99. Ages 9–12. Published: January 2007.

Links: www.theinventionofhugocabret.com

This reading group was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. This guide is copyrighted by Janice Harayda, and its sale or reproduction in any form is illegal except by public libraries that many reproduce it for use in their in-house reading groups. Other groups that wish to use this guide should link to this site or use “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce the guide.

If you are a librarian and found this guide helpful, please consider adding One-Minute Book Reviews http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com to the “Ready Reference” links at your library. One-Minute Book Reviews accepts no advertising and has been approved by, and appears on, Open Directory lists. Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 14, 2006

Isaac Millman’s Hidden Child: An Artful Book for 7-to-9-Year-Olds

Filed under: Children's Books,Religion — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:24 pm
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The true story of a young Jewish boy who spent years hiding from the Nazis in occupied France

Hidden Child. By Isaac Millman. Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Frances Foster Books, 73 pp., $18. Ages 7–9.

By Janice Harayda

At the age of seven, Isaac Millman escaped from Paris and went into hiding in France after his parents were arrested by the Nazis. In Hidden Child he tells his story through an artful balance of spare but vivid prose, soft-focused paintings, and black-and-white photos.

Millman neither denies nor exaggerates the dangers he faced as he writes of days full of terrors in cities and the countryside — an arrest by Nazis at bayonet-point, confinement in a prison cell with five others, abandonment on the streets of Paris by a man paid to keep him safe, a stay at a hospital used as a safe house for children of deported Jews (where he had to feign illness and use a wheelchair). But he also tells of small comforts, such a finding clusters of tiny white strawberries that helped him avoid starvation and playing with a white puppy at a shelter set up for the children of missing parents after the Liberation. His parents died in Auschwitz, and, at 15, he left France for a new life in the U.S. with a loving couple who adopted him.

Hidden Child is an oversized picture-book-with-chapters that would suit many children who are learning about the Nazis but are too young for The Diary of Anne Frank. It offers a sensitive introduction to the Holocaust for children of any faith and a potential Hanukkah gift that families will remember far longer than eight nights.

Best line: Many. One passage describes a Christmas the author spent with a kind, Catholic widow who had agreed to hide him. She had instructed him to put his shoes under the tree before going to bed: “I was too old to believe in Santa, but I couldn’t wait until morning to see what Madame Devolder had left in my shoe. It was a woolen scarf she’d knitted. And in the other, an added surprise: a beautiful orange. I had not easten one since early in the war.”

Worst line: None.

Recommended if … you’re looking for a gentle but historically accurate book about the Holocaust that gives a child’s-eye-view of its events. This book would interest some children older than age 9 and many adults.

Editor: Frances Foster

Published: September 2005.

FYI: Amazon had this book in stock and available for overnight delivery on December 14 www.amazon.com.

© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

 

Watch for more reviews of children’s books in the Children’s Corner every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. This Saturday: Children’s books about pirates.

 

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