Hugo Cabret lives alone in a busy Paris train station. The year is 1931. Hugo must keep the clocks running so no one discovers that his uncle, the Timekeeper, has disappeared. He must also forage and sometimes steal in order to eat. While avoiding detection, Hugo works on a secret project, continuing his late father’s work fixing an automaton, in order to see the message the automaton will write when he’s fixed. In some ways, this is Hugo’s only tie to his father, and he guards this secret above all others.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not like any other book I’ve ever read. It’s very long – 525 pages – and a good half of them at least are pictures. It’s like a cross between an illustrated novel and a picture book, and it won the Caldecott Medal in 2008. It’s an absolutely gorgeous book.
It would be easy to just defer to the art in the book. It’s beautiful enough that it would make up for a bad story, had that been the case. But the story of Hugo Cabret is not a bad one. It’s about a scared boy and the friendships he forms even though he doesn’t know how to trust. It’s about grief and family. It’s about work and believing in yourself. The whole thing is threaded with movie references. Old movies, from the films that were around in the 20s and early 30s when the book takes place, to the very first movies produced. Some of them I recognized from a French films class I took a decade ago. Others I now want to see if I can find and watch. The story itself was satisfying, and there were parts that made me tear up because it was so touching.
And the art. Oh the art. Now that I’ve talked about the story, I must give credit to this. It’s a good story, no doubt, but without the art, it wouldn’t have been brilliant. The art brings this book to life. As I said, the art makes up at least half the book, with each drawing occupying two pages. I can’t really insert pictures here, so instead I’m just going to recommend getting your hands on this book! It’s beautiful and so good. I’m very, very happy to own it.