When the story begins, it is 1931, in Paris, in a large train station that is the home of 12-year-old Hugo Cabret. He tends to all the clocks in the station, keeping them wound and running smoothly. It had been his uncle's job, until he disappeared, and now Hugo tends the clocks and struggles to survive, always afraid someone will find out that his uncle is dead, and kick him out of the tiny room he lives in.
He has only two things he has saved from his happier days, when his father was alive — when they read together, went to movies, or worked on fixing clocks — for that was how Hugo's father made his living, as a clockmaker. Hugo has one of his father's notebooks, full of sketches of an automaton, a mechanical man that he found in the attic of the museum where he worked part-time. His father was trying to repair it the night he died in a fire at the museum.
And the second thing Hugo has is the mechanical man itself. He found it one night when he went to the ruins of the museum, wanting to feel close to his father. It was in terrible shape, in several pieces, burned, rusty, dead. But it was a part of his father, who had spent long hours trying to restore it, and had died because of it. Hugo couldn't leave it there, so he hauled it back to the train station and began trying to repair it, using the sketches in his father's notebook, and stealing bits and pieces from the mechanical toys the old man in the station toy booth sells.
Until one day, the old man catches him, and tells him to empty out his pockets. When he sees the notebook that Hugo always carries with him, he is so interested in it that he steals it from Hugo, and even threatens to burn it. Why is he so desperate to have the notebook? What does it mean to him? Why does his goddaughter, Isabella, steal it from him, so she can return it to Hugo? What will the automaton do if Hugo is able to fix it? It has a pen in its hand — will it write something? Draw something?
There are secrets, upon secrets, upon secrets, one mystery after another. Enter the world of Hugo Cabret, a world of mysterious mechanisms, silent movies, unexpected friendships, and startling endings. Discover what a fascinating place Hugo's world can be.
Presentation Note: All the way through the talk, show pages that illustrate the text of the talk, using paper clips or post-it notes to mark the pages so you can turn to them quickly.
This booktalk was written by university professor, librarian, and booktalking expert Joni Richards Bodart.