This is from Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. Here is a true masterpiece - an artful blending of narrative, illustration and cinematic technique, for a story as tantalizing as it is touching.Twelve-year-old orphan Hugo lives in the walls of a Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century, where he tends to the clocks and filches what he needs to survive. Hugo’s recently deceased father, a clockmaker, worked in a museum where he discovered anautomaton: a human-like figure seated at a desk, pen in hand, as if ready to deliver a message. After his father showed Hugo the robot, the boy became just as obsessed with getting the automaton to function as his father had been, and the man gave his son one of the notebooks he used to record the automaton’s inner workings. The plot grows as intricate as the robot’s gears and mechanisms: Hugo’s father dies in a fire at the museum; Hugo winds up living in the train station, which brings him together with a mysterious toymaker who runs a booth there, and the boy reclaims the automaton, to which the toymaker also has a connection. To Selznick’s credit, the coincidences all feel carefully orchestrated; epiphany after epiphany occurs before the book comes to its sumptuous, glorious end. Selznick hints at the toymaker’s hidden identity (inspired by an actual historical figure in the film industry, Georges Méliès) through impressive use of meticulous charcoal drawings that grow or shrink against black backdrops, in pages-long sequences. They display the same item in increasingly tight focus or pan across scenes the way a camera might. The plot ultimately has much to do with the history of the movies, and Selznick’s genius lies in his expert use of such a visual style to spotlight the role of this highly visual media. A standout achievement. Ages 9-12. (Mar.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
And this is from Kirkus:
Starred review. From Selznick’s ever-generative mind comes a uniquely inventive story told in text, sequential art and period photographs and film. Orphaned Hugo survives secretly in a Parisian train station (circa 1930). Obsessed with reconstructing a broken automaton, Hugo is convinced that it will write a message from his father that will save his life. Caught stealing small mechanical repair parts from the station’s toy shop, Hugo’s life intersects with the elderly shop owner and his goddaughter, Isabelle. The children are drawn together in solving the linked mysteries of the automaton and the identity of the artist, illusionist and pioneer filmmaker, Georges Méliès, long believed dead. Discovering that Isabelle’s godfather is Méliès, the two resurrect his films, his reputationand assure Hugo’s future. Opening with cinematic immediacy, a series of drawings immerses readers in Hugo’s mysterious world. Exquisitely chosen art sequences are sometimes stopped moments, sometimes moments of intense action and emotion. The book, an homage to early filmmakers as dreammakers, is elegantly designed to resemble the flickering experience of silent film melodramas. Fade to black and cue the applause! (notes, film credits) (Fiction. 9-12).
And this is from School Library Journal:
Starred review. With characteristic intelligence, exquisite images, and a breathtaking design, Selznick shatters conventions related to the art of bookmaking in this magical mystery set in 1930s Paris. He employs wordless sequential pictures and distinct pages of text to let the cinematic story unfold, and the artwork, rendered in pencil and bordered in black, contains elements of a flip book, a graphic novel, and film. It opens with a small square depicting a full moon centered on a black spread. As readers flip the pages, the image grows and the moon recedes. A boy on the run slips through a grate to take refuge inside the walls of a train station home for this orphaned, apprentice clock keeper. As Hugo seeks to accomplish his mission, his life intersects with a cantankerous toyshop owner and a feisty girl who won’t be ignored. Each character possesses secrets and something of great value to the other. With deft foreshadowing, sensitively wrought characters, and heart-pounding suspense, the author engineers the elements of his complex plot: speeding trains, clocks, footsteps, dreams, and movies, especially those by Georges Méliès, the French pioneer of science-fiction cinema. Movie stills are cleverly interspersed. Selznick’s art ranges from evocative, shadowy spreads of Parisian streets to penetrating character close-ups. Leaving much to ponder about loss, time, family, and the creative impulse, the book closes with a waning moon, a diminishing square, and informative credits. This is a masterful narrative that readers can literally manipulate.
-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
And this is from The Horn Book:
Starred Review. Here’s a dilemma for the Newbery committee...and the Caldecott: what do you do with an illustrated novel in which neither text nor pictures can tell the story alone? Not to mention the drama to be found in the page turns themselves. A brief introduction sets the time (1931) and place (Paris) and invites readers to imagine they’re at the movies. And with a turn of the page, they are, as, over a sequence of twenty-one double-page wordless spreads, a story begins. A picture of the moon gives way to an aerial shot of Paris; day breaks as the "camera" moves into a shot of a train station, where a boy makes his way to a secret passage from which, through a peephole, he watches an old man sitting at a stall selling toys. Finally, the text begins: "From his perch behind the clock, Hugo could see everything." The story that follows in breathtaking counterpoint is a lively one, involving the dogged Hugo, his tough little ally Isabelle, an automaton that can draw pictures, and a stage magician turned filmmaker, the real-life Georges Méliès, most famously the director of A Trip to the Moon (1902). There is a bounty of mystery and incident here, along with several excellent chase scenes expertly rendered in the atmospheric, dramatically crosshatched black-and-white (naturally) pencil drawings that make up at least a third of the book. (According to the final chapter, and putting a metafictional spin on things, there are 158 pictures and 26,159 words in the book.) The interplay between the illustrations (including several stills from Méliès’s frequently surreal films and others from the era) and text is complete genius, especially in the way Selznick moves from one to the other, depending on whether words or images are the better choice for the moment. And as in silent films, it’s always just one or the other, wordless double-spread pictures or unillustrated text, both framed in the enticing black of the silent screen. While the bookmaking is spectacular, and the binding secure but generous enough to allow the pictures to flow easily across the gutter, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is foremost good storytelling, with a sincerity and verbal ease reminiscent of Andrew Clements (a frequent Selznick collaborator) and themes of secrets, dreams, and invention that play lightly but resonantly throughout. At one point, Hugo watches in awe as Isabelle blithely picks the lock on a door. "How did you learn to do that?" he asks. "Books," she answers. Exactly so. R.S.
And this is from The Los Angeles Times
"The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick.
The hidden world of a young boy in a Paris train station
By Sonja Bolle
Sonja Bolle is a freelance book editor and reviews children’s books for Newsday.
February 18, 2007
SHOW, don’t tell, they always say in filmmaking. Children’s book authors have long experimented with showing rather than telling in wordless picture books, the most successful recent example being 2007 Caldecott Medal winner "Flotsam," by David Wiesner. Brian Selznick explores the line between telling and showing in an entirely new way in his captivating book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret."
Billed as "a novel in words and pictures" for 9- to 12-year-olds, "Hugo Cabret" employs what can easily be called cinematic techniques, melding text and illustration to tell the story of an orphan who lives by his wits in a Paris train station in the 1930s. The book opens with a short introduction setting the scene: "I want you to picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie. On screen, the sun will soon rise!."
On the very next page there is a "tight shot" of the moon a small, black and silvery-white illustration surrounded by a vast black border. On the following pages, the "camera" pulls back to reveal the city of Paris (always keeping the black border, akin to a cinematic letterbox format), then gradually zooms in on a busy railway station and finds a boy looking warily over his shoulder. We follow the boy out of the great hall and down a corridor; we see him disappear into a grate, then into a secret passage that allows him to peer out from behind a station clock at a merchant leaning sleepily on the counter of his booth.
Only on Page 46 does the text pick up again, quite seamlessly: "From his perch behind the clock, Hugo could see everything. He rubbed his fingers nervously against the small notebook in his pocket and told himself to be patient." The reader feels instinctively that the transition from pictures to words is necessary, as "he told himself to be patient" is not something that can be conveyed in images. As the mystery in the book deepens and the plot becomes more complicated, the transitions succeed each other precisely, like the clockwork machinery that forms a central theme in the story.
A consciousness of the storytelling style is one of the great pleasures of reading this book. In the best of the wordless picture books (Istvan Banyai’s "Zoom," Barbara Lehman’s "The Red Book," Peter Collington’s "A Small Miracle"), the reader forgets about the manner of the storytelling; if the book is successful, the reader enters the world of the story and doesn’t look back. Selznick, however, straddles the line between visual and textual storytelling, focusing the reader’s attention on technique because he keeps flipping back and forth. The reader even catches him out in imperfect decisions ("Hey! The picture already showed me that! Did he think I wouldn’t notice?"), but it’s not a disappointment: It’s a sign of engagement, a measure of the book’s to borrow a term from yet another medium interactivity.
A note to parents trying to encourage reluctant readers to make the jump from large-type, short-chapter books to denser, more intimidating novels: Let Brian Selznick help. The design of "Hugo Cabret" is ideal for crossing that threshold to more sophisticated books. The volume is hefty more than 500 pages but large stretches are occupied by dramatic illustration. Yet there is no confusing this art with picture books meant for horrors! little kids. This is definitely a big-kid book; 12-year-old Hugo looks like a pretty tough customer.
Selznick is best known as an illustrator paired with celebrated authors Pam Muñoz Ryan ("When Marian Sang," "Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride") and Andrew Clements ("Frindle," "Lunch Money"). In his own books, he has explored childhood obsessions: "The Houdini Box" (1991) is about a kid determined to learn the famous magician’s tricks, and "The Boy of a Thousand Faces" (2000) identifies with horror movie star Lon Chaney. "Hugo Cabret" brings together all of Selznick’s popular-culture passions in a much deeper and more complex story.
Hugo’s obsession with trying to reconstruct a mechanical man that is his only link to his father brings him into contact with the old man whose mechanical toys mysteriously provide Hugo with the parts he needs. Selznick has used the real-life biography of early French filmmaker Georges Méliès, a magician and showman who used the new medium of film to amaze and astonish, to bring dreams to life, but who fell into obscurity and indeed ran a toy shop until he was rediscovered by students of film.
It’s not necessary to know cinema history to appreciate the story, but the references are there
for knowing readers. There are film stills that show why early movie audiences screamed and fainted in
terror. There is effective poetic use of the myth of Prometheus, and even a meditation on finding one’s
purpose in life. And then, just when you thought you would be swamped by words, there is a fabulous chase
scene. What more could any reader, or moviegoer, want?