The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Synopsis of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik: ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and her grandfather, Hugo's undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

My thoughts

The book in once sentence: A 12-year-old Parisian orphan makes a startling discovery of a man's true - and astounding - identity.

This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read, and I really, really think you should read it. No, get your own copy!

The story alone will hook you. But add those mesmerizing images ... and they make this book a true gem. I guarantee that you have never seen a book like this, ever. This chunkster (526 pages!) is a story told in both words and pictures. Now the pictures aren't just pretty pictures - they are an essential part of how the story is told. The book alternates in being a flip book, to sections with text like a "typical" book, and strangely enough, somehow capturing the sense of a movie. This rather heady combination just kept me going, going ... and I really didn't want the book to end! To see the opening sequence: click here.

Convinced you yet? Read more after the jump. And a short video on how the book was made.

Our hero is an orphaned 12-year-old boy called Hugo Cabret. He is a shadow in the world, living a anonymous life: he secretly winds up the clocks in the train station, he secretly steals in order to survive, and he secretly loves movies. Until one day, he gets caught stealing toys in the toy booth, and here starts an unlikely friendship with the toy booth owner, a lonely old man and his niece, a young girl about Hugo's age called Isabelle.

Hugo's cloak of anonymity slowly lifts and what follows next is an unlikely mix of revelations. What are those strange drawings in Hugo's treasured notebook? What is this strange drawing of a moonface with a rocket in its eye? What will Hugo's mechanical man, saved from a fire and is Hugo's only link to his father, draw when it is finally fixed? What is Hugo Cabret's invention?

All these converges to the biggest revelation of all. And an unassuming man's identity is finally revealed for all the world to recognize and applaud. In the end, a young orphan boy's life is forever changed.


Spoiler here: What makes this book extra special is that there is so much back research done. Look up the various elements that make up the story, and many of them are rooted in reality. The story centres on Georges Méliès, maker of the first science fiction movie, a renowned filmmaker from the 1890s through the 1920s. That strange image on the left is from Méliès's movie A Trip to the Moon. The automaton that draws is not a figment of someone's imagination, it truly existed!

Watch this earlier video of Brian Selznick - both author and illustrator - explaining his book, how he created those beautiful images it, and the story that inspired it. Thank you, Brian, for bringing "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" into this world! This is truly one of my most treasured reads!

Verdict: Need I say it again: This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read, and I really, really think you should read it. No, get your own copy! (And I mean every single one of those words in italics and bold!)

Check out the website for more info, the back story, and more incredible images at the official website:


  1. I can't believe my kids haven't read this yet. I want to read it too, especially now. I'll have to get my hands on a copy!

  2. Hi Susan - i missed your comment somehow. I encourage you to get a copy. And his new book Wonderstruck is also now out!


© guiltless readingMaira Gall