Kitchen Table Reviews: The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Find out how this award-winner stacked up with our kid reviewers.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
I put Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret on the shelf and waited. And waited. And waited some more. It's a Caldecott winner, for crying out loud! Yet neither child touched it, possibly because — as the thickest book on the shelf — it was rather imposing. Hugo's eyeball stared out from the grey and black spine for months, and finally I had to take matters into my own hands — literally. I opened it up one day and was immediately sucked in by the story and dark, soulful drawings.
Me: I just finished Hugo Cabret and it was awesome!
My darling children immediately commenced arguing over who would get to read it first. Of course. After a few days, we convened to talk about it.
Me: Okay, what did you think of Hugo Cabret?
Son: It was awesome!
Me: How come?
Son: Because he lives in the walls like a spy! And has that mechanical man! And he figures everything out!
Me: Wow. I'm sorry you didn't like it.
Son: I did!
Me: That was a joke.
Son: Not a very good one.
Me: You're right.
Hey, I know when to own up. I turned to my daughter.
Me: What about you? Did you like it?
Daughter: Yeah, it was... good.
Me: You seem unsure.
Daughter: It made me feel kind of sad, sometimes. Especially for Hugo and that George guy.
Me: Georges. Me, too. But then I felt happy at the end.
Daughter: Me, too!
Mom: So what did you think of having all those pictures in the book, with pages of drawings and no writing in a bunch of spots?
Daughter: That was really cool. It was like, showing you stuff instead of telling. You could watch the story instead of reading it, some.
Son: I loved all those pictures of him working on stuff!
I decided to dig a little bit deeper.
Me: So... what do you think Hugo's invention was?
Son: The mechanical man!!
Daughter: He didn't invent that, silly.
Son: Oh, yeah.
Me: Any other ideas?
Daughter: I think it was something... I don't know how to say it... something not physical. Something about how he felt?
Me: I think so, too. Like, maybe his invention is his new life?
Daughter: Yes, that!
Son: I want a mechanical man. Can we build one?
So, I'd have to say that my son (3rd grade) was old enough to enjoy it, but maybe not to really "get" it; and my daughter (5th grade) was just on the cusp of understanding (the book is recommended for grades 4–7). This is a complicated and emotional book, with lots of layers.
Pros: Unique graphic-heavy format. Hugo is a likeable protagonist. Lots of intrigue.
Cons: Sort of depressing (until the end). Hard-to-pronounce French names. My son is now obsessed with making a mechanical man.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret gets three thumbs up from our kitchen table, which I now wish was located in Paris.