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Worth the purchase? Mother-Tween book club’s verdict on Hugo Cabret


The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a thick hardcover book, and it cost me $27.95 CAD at the bookstore. Rarely do I fork out that much money on children’s books, especially one that consists of about 50% illustrations. My kids convinced me to take the plunge, because we’re on a “read the book, see the movie” kick.  Yesterday morning,  my tween daughters and I discussed the merits and shortcomings of Hugo over waffles and coffee.  Was it worth the purchase?

We agreed  Brian Selznick’s illustrations are stunning. Drawn in pencil, they are intricate and magical.  E-readers would be unlikely to capture the effect, so we were glad to have the book.  I wonder if the increasing popularity of graphic novels and illustrated books has anything to do with the paper-book industry’s struggle to survive?  Hmmm.

What about the writing?

We thought the choice of topics was interesting, especially for a children’s book. Based on the films of Georges Melies, there are many references to early European and American films and filmakers.  Included at the very end of the book are some excellent references to learn more about the period of early film making.   We enjoyed learning about the automaton, apparently based on a real 19th century phenomenon.

Although the book contained well-written passages in chunks, we  felt that the characters and narrative lacked cohesion. Fictional Hugo and Isabelle lacked depth.  ”I had long wanted to write a story about Georges Melies,” writes Selnick in his acknowledgements.  Indeed, the plot and characters at times read like devices, contrived to inform readers about Georges Melies, films, and automata.

Worth it?

Despite the choppy writing, I did not regret my purchase.  It’s difficult to find books that meet the reading needs of an adult, an 11 year old, and a 9 year old, but this book fit the bill. We appreciated Selznick’s imaginative storytelling through illustrations, and he succeeded in arousing our curiosity in early film making.

We can’t wait to see Scorcese’s movie version, and will be interested to see if the plot and characters translate better on film.

Recommended?  Absolutely.  Bonding with kids over books, movies, and food can only lead to great things.


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