Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press)
When Brian Selznick’s 534-page The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott Medal, it challenged and changed how many people looked at the picture book genre. As a bookseller, I’ve also seen how that book changed how certain kids approached reading. While a book that size may initially scare many young and reluctant readers off, the speed which they can read and absorb the pictures as well as the text, made it as easy as watching a movie. The same kids come back to the store proud, stressing that they just READ over 500 pages! And then they always say, So, what else do you have like it? While there really wasn’t anything quite like it available, the book worked well to take a lot of that fear away from reading and, often, after read Hugo, they were ready to launch into less-picture-heavy books.
And now there’s Wonderstruck. While comparisons between Selznick’s two books will be hard to avoid, they really are quite different. They both rely on Selnick’s iconic black-and-white pencil illustrations heavily throughout the books and are each impressive sized tomes, which will make readers feel similarly accomplished once finished. But where Hugo told the same story alternating between text and pictures like a silent film, Wonderstruck tells the story of two different children, simultaneously. Ben’s story is told exclusively through text, while Rose’s story, set fifty years earlier than Ben’s, is told exclusively through the illustrations. It’s fascinating to watch parallels unravel between the two stories, as the characters find themselves in strangely similar situations and sometimes even the exact same places, until they finally intertwine in a surprising and rewarding way.
While Hugo was a homage to film, Wonderstruck seems a homage to the natural world and to museums. With a nod to E.L. Koningsburg’s classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Selznick show readers the wonder and mystery that is hidden behind the scenes at a museum. Working at a museum myself, I often share that sense of awe and connection that both Rose and Ben feel when inside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This is one of my favorite quotes from the book:
A curator’s job is an important one, for it is the curator who decides what belongs in the museum. The curator then must decide exactly how the objects will be displayed. In a way, anyone who collects things in the privacy of his own home is a curator. Simply choosing how to display your things, deciding what pictures to hang where, and in which order your books belong, places you in the same category as a museum curator.
Book creators are like museum curators, and their books are their own personal museums. They study and collect, they create and they edit, they switch things around until they look just right. They choose how they want to display things so they can share, in the perfect way, what they need to with the world. Selznick has certainly curated a wonderous masterpiece, in Wonderstuck, bringing both in his illustrations and text into perfect harmony. On shelves now.
Here’s a little video of Brian Selznick talking about the book:
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