Friday, August 26, 2011

Wonderstruck - & a giveaway!

Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick, Scholastic, September 2011.

Well, Brian Selznick has done it again. When I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I was blindsided by its originality, inventiveness, & the feeling that I was taking in a new type of art. With Wonderstruck, he utilizes this same art form - a complex story told through words & pictures - with equally magical results.

I can't even verbalize how excited I was to read this book. This May, the first morning of my first BEA, I arrived at the children's author breakfast to find a Wonderstruck tote bag in my seat. Sweet! New tote! Then I opened the tote to find an ARC of the book. My heart skipped a beat. (If you think that's silly, well, what are you doing here?) I might as well have been holding a gold brick in my now-sweaty palms. I brought it home & set it on a shelf, where it sat unread by me until last week, when I just couldn't take the anticipation anymore. (Plus my boyfriend, who read it as soon as I brought it home, kept asking, "When are you gonna read Wonderstruck? You really should. Have you read it yet? What about now?")

It didn't disappoint. I devoured it in a matter of hours - & consequently was depressed that it was over.

The book consists of two storylines. One, set in 1977, is told through words. Ben's peaceful life by snowy Gunflint Lake is upheaved when his mother dies. He finds a strange clue in her room, leading him to the American Museum of Natural History on a search for the father he never knew. The other story, set in 1927, is told through pictures. Rose runs away to New York City to see an actress, whose life she follows through newspaper clippings.

There are infinitely more layers to the plot, but that's all you'll get from me. The revelations provided and experienced by the characters are a large part of what makes the book amazing. Every few pages a new piece of the puzzle falls into place, a surprise will make you gasp, a new artifact finds its place in the Cabinet of Wonders. The way that the two stories come together is nothing short of wondrous. Ben's story and Rose's start to converge, mysteries unravel, the stories intertwine, the art & words converge seamlessly to a gorgeous, moving end.

I would say it all feels effortless but that would be a discredit to the amount of effort Selznick puts into his work. As fascinating as the book itself are the endnotes about how thoroughly he researched every facet of the story - the places, the people, the cultures, the art, the history. At BEA (where he wore the most spectacular pair of sparkly red shoes!) he did a presentation on the making of the book, from trips to the museums to walls covered with his illustrations-in-progress. The passion for his art is evident in the time & care he has taken to create it, & to make it as good as he possibly can.

I also very much appreciated his nod to E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, one of my all-time favorites. & whether he was actually influenced by it or not, there are a number of likenesses to Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, another all-time favorite.

My only - ONLY! - complaint with the book is that for being such a hefty tome, almost 650 pages, it's over all too soon. I guess I'll just have to reread it a few hundred times. 

Now for the giveaway portion of this update! That's why you're all here, right? I have been lucky enough over the course of the past three months or so to end up with multiple copies of the ARC of Wonderstruck. I kept the autographed one, I've given away a couple to other Selznick fans, but now I have another. & yes, I could hoard all of these Wonderstrucks because they're so spectacular I don't want to part with them, but really, I'll never be able to read more than one copy at a time.

So I am gifting an ARC of Wonderstruck to one lucky reader! In order to win this little informal contest, I'd like you to comment & tell me what you love most about The Invention of Hugo Cabret. There are so many things to love about it. & heck, if you haven't read it, tell me what your favorite children's book is & why. & I will choose at random from the responders.

Comment between now & next Friday, September 2, at noon. After that, I will announce a winner. Please enter, because I mean, I'm just doing this for fun & because I love making people happy by putting books in their hands. Good luck!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I have never read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but my favorite children's book of all time is The Incredible Book-Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. It displays a masterful talent in combining together the flow of the whimsical story of a boy who gains (and subsequently loses) knowledge from eating books instead of reading them with some of the most lovingly created hand-drawn illustrations I've seen in children's lit. It's a 5 minute read, but I have worn the spine out on it over the last 4 years.

    Being an illustrator and designer, I am far more interested in the artistic side of children's lit, so the book shoots right to my heart.

  3. I don't think I can pick just one favorite, but if I had to, I'd say that "The Phantom Tollbooth" is one of the best. I've read and continue to read hundreds and hundreds of children/young adult readers.

    Sure everyone knows the plot of the book, but it's one that's simply stuck with me all these years. It's clever and imaginative, just all around a masterful piece of literature. It's what fiction should be.

  4. I am yet another person who has not read The Invention of Hugo Cabret (but I will now!).
    My favorite children's book, so far, is Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. The novel is set in Copenhagen in 1943, well into the Third Reich's occupation of Denmark. The narrative centers around two friends, Annemarie and Ellen, and their families. Ellen's Jewish; Annemarie isn't. Both girls and their families are either revealed to be participants in the Danish resistance or drawn into it through various machinations of the plot.

    I read this book for the first time when I was a little girl. At the time, it was brand new and on display with the new releases in my school's library. I remember being excited because it looked different from the run-of-the-mill Baby-sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins books, wildly popular with girls my age but which I never much cared for, and it even seemed different from my beloved Nancy Drew mystery stories. And it was. Number the Stars is a children's book that does not attempt to remove children from the adult world they inevitably inhabit, and those are my favorite kinds of children's books. This book has very realistic moments of injustice, joy, violence, loss, hope, and death. Adults are not always trustworthy, and most of them are not presented as stock and white "good" or "bad" characters. At a young age, complex characters resonated with me in particular, because they more accurately reflected the reality of my experiences with people. The characters are tested internally - and not just morally in the manner of so many children's books, but intellectually. Reading the book becomes an exercise in trying to understand and solve the problems of culture.

    It is also didactic, and of course a children's book set during the peak of war-era occupied Denmark is going to take the opportunity to teach readers about tolerance, acceptance, loyalty, bravery, and trust. And I can't begrudge it that. When I read the book, I remembered that my mom's parents "grew up in France but had to leave as children". Otherwise, I knew little about my own family history. But reading this book gave me the first ideas of what it would mean for a country to be so volatile that even its children had to leave. (I didn't know what a civilian was, or a casualty of war, even. The scope of my concepts was limited.)

    But, more than even the personal connection I made to this book, Number the Stars was the gateway to one of my most enduring interests as an adult - the pan-European cultural mash-up disaster of 19th and 20th Century Europe, with Germany and its constantly-shifting borders and identities at the center. This book resonated with me so strongly that no children's book I've read since has surpassed it, although the His Dark Materials series is very very close.