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Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Title: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Author: Brian Selznick

Genre: Historical, 30s, Middle Grade

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: March 1st 2007
Hardcover: 533 pages

Orphan Hugo Cabret lives in a wall. His secret home is etched out in the crevices of a busy Paris train station. Part-time clock keeper, part-time thief, he leads a life of quiet routine until he gets involved with an eccentric, bookish young girl and an angry old man who runs a toy booth in the station. The Invention of Hugo Cabret unfolds its cryptic, magical story in a format that blends elements of picture book, novel, graphic novel, and film. Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator Brian Selznick has fashioned an intricate puzzle story that binds the reader like a mesmerist’s spell.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: I’ve seen this book around for a long, long time and always wanted to read it. Then I heard that Martin Scorcese is directing a movie based on the book and I just HAD to read it.


1931. Hugo Cabret is an orphaned boy who lives behind the walls of a Parisian train station working as his uncle’s apprentice as the station’s clock keeper. When his uncle goes missing, Hugo has no choice but to keep tending to the clocks, pretending his uncle is still around in order to at least have a place to live. His life is hard and most of his free time is spent around his most treasured possessions: his late father’s broken automaton, rescued from the ruins of an old museum and the notebook that contains directions on how to fix it. Hugo believes that once fixed, the automaton will relay a message from his father and since all of his hopes and dreams rely heavily on this belief he will stop at nothing from making it happen – even stealing the small pieces necessary to put it back together from the toy booth at the station. Until he ends up caught in flagrante delicto by the old man who owns the booth, starting a relationship that will change his life forever, once he finds out who the man really is.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a different sort of book: amongst its 533 pages, 284 contain pictures (original illustrations as well as real photographs from the time period) but I cannot really say that this is an illustrated book nor it is a graphic novel. The pictures tell part of the story – albeit a silent one – as much as the writing, in traditional narrative, does. In that sense, the images are not complementary, they are essential. Without them the story would not exist. As a format, it works wonderfully: it is evocative, beautifully capturing the time period and the Paris of the early 30s.

But more than that: although this a story about an orphaned boy, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is at its core a story about early cinema inspired by the life and work of Georges Méliès, about the beginnings of filmmaking and about how truly magical it was. It relates the reactions of those early audiences, it explores the closeness between magicians and filmmakers and how affecting and life-changing movies can be. Because of that, I can’t help but to think of the illustrations working as a silent movie contained within these pages and I loved this aspect of the book as much as I loved the presence of automata and clock-making.

Having said that, although I loved the idea of the book and how the illustrations/images were part of the narrative, I wasn’t completely won over by the prose because at times it felt too …simplistic. It is as though all the magic was concentrated on the format rather than on the characters and the story. I think the latter suffered less though because the premise was cool, and despite some contrivances the plot comes together perfectly in the end – like clock-work, or like the pieces of an automaton.

Which brings me to the characters – they are likeable but not really well developed. Although I loved the story, I only liked the characters and didn’t really love them. Although I usually don’t think that characters need to be likeable or loveable for a story to work, I do personally believe that for a story like this particular one to truly, really work in capturing its audience (adult or not), readers should be connected with the characters and with their plight. But there was a definite lack of emotional depth that stemmed from the lacklustre writing. And that was one very important thing missing from a book that is supposed to be magical. As it stands, it has its wonderful moments but for me it lacked the one thing that it would make it awesome.

Notable Quotes/Parts:

Since the illustrations are such a huge part of the narrative, here are some of them:

Additional Thoughts: I am really looking forward to the movie – I think it might work better in that format. The trailer looks awesome:


7 – Very Good


Buy the Book:


  • Recidivist Reader
    August 4, 2011 at 12:31 am

    I love this book! I about fell over when I saw the movie trailer before Harry Potter, because I hadn’t heard they were making a movie out of it. The inside of the clock in 3D looked great…I hope they can do it justice.

    I agree that some of the plot/characters/writing was a bit simplistic, but this is a book that I often recommended to “reluctant readers” in my bookselling days. They would be put off at first by its size, but when I showed them the inside, with many pages of pictures and illustrations and relatively short bits of narrative, they were willing to give it a try.

    Normally I’m not thrilled when a book I’ve enjoyed gets turned into a movie, but in this case, I think the visual medium (and especially 3D) might be able to create some of the magic missing in the writing.

  • Kerry
    August 4, 2011 at 1:38 am

    Could I ask a question please? What exactly is “middle grade” in age please? I’m not familiar with the US school system and so I can never quite figure it out.

    I have a slightly precocious 7 year old son who is just reaching the point of trying books beyond chapter books that still have pictures, so I’m trying to figure out if any of these would be good for him to try. Because I’m not sure what middle grade age is, it makes it difficult to gauge your reviews in relation to his needs.

    We’ve recently read Eva Ibbotson’s The Great Ghost Rescue together and right now he’s ploughing through Diana Wynne Jones’ The Ogre Downstairs with great enthusiasm.

    Any help would be gratefully appreciated.

  • Recidivist Reader
    August 4, 2011 at 2:03 am

    It’s usually considered ages 8-12 or so. I call this category “intermediate” because it’s between books written for early readers and YA, which is geared to a teen audience. If your 7 year old is a good reader, I would try moving to some books in this category, including The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It is about half narrative, half pictures, but they are not merely illustrations to support the text – the pictures are just as important as the text in moving the story along.

  • Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick | The … | ReviewTica
    August 4, 2011 at 3:33 am

    […] View original Book Review here: Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick | The … […]

  • Mariana
    August 4, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    My daughter had to read this for her 6th grade reading assignment for the summer (last year)… she really enjoyed the book. The illustrations are fantastic.

    After reading it for the assignment, chose to re-read it just for the pleasure of it. When she saw they were making it into a movie, she was excited to see what it will be like.

  • Kerry
    August 4, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Thanks, Recidivist Reader. I’ll try putting a reserve on it at the library and he can see what he thinks for himself.

  • Michelle
    August 4, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    I’ve been curious about this book for YEARS because I thought the image/narrative format looked really neat. The movie trailer looks *awesome* and has made me want to check out the movie even more; it looks really good.

  • rachel
    August 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    I have always been a big fan of Selznick’s art – he’s done some beautiful picture books. I’ll definitely check this one out for my son.

  • Woes of a book blogger. « Lady With Books
    August 9, 2011 at 8:02 am

    […] Brackston and I also picked up The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brain Selznick . The Book Smugglers reviewed it a few days ago and I wanted to see what it was all about. It’s about 30 pages of short text […]

  • Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. « Lady With Books
    August 26, 2011 at 11:10 am

    […] not happen. I did, however, finish The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Some weeks ago, The Book Smugglers reviewed the story and I wanted to read it myself to see what the fuss was all about. The Invention […]

  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick « Chachic's Book Nook
    August 30, 2011 at 7:28 am

    […] reviews: Fully Booked .Me The Book Smugglers 0.000000 0.000000 Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  • Anonymous
    January 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    emerald gray says it was amzing and when it comes out on dvd im going to get it 😆

  • Anonymous
    February 24, 2012 at 7:45 am

    it was stupid 😛

  • Anonymous
    February 24, 2012 at 7:46 am

    i thot it was good but bad at times

  • Anonymous
    February 24, 2012 at 7:47 am

    i loved it soooooo much

  • Anonymous
    April 3, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    i luv it! 😆

  • Eesti
    April 5, 2012 at 12:57 am

    The book is captivating. The series of unknowns keep you glued to the book wanting and waiting for answers. The complexity of the characters, the historical realism, the wonderment of little-known automatons, and the ability to have the reader feel each and every one of Hugo’s emotions makes this book a journey worth taking.

  • Anonymous
    June 15, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    i loved this book the movie was ok but not as great make sure to read book before you watch the movie! 😀 😳 😆 :mrgreen: 💡 🙄 😯 🙁

  • Anonymous
    September 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    mymy my my my 😮 :mrgreen: 😈 👿 😛 😡 😕 😯 😮 🙁 🙂 😀

  • Anonymous
    November 1, 2012 at 11:00 am

    🙄 🙄 🙄 😳 😀 🙂 🙁 😮 😯 😕 8) D 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 🙄 this book is cool

  • http://Tinyurl.com/micrdrew50531
    April 14, 2013 at 5:36 am

    This particular posting, “The Book Smugglers | Book Review:
    The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick” illustrates
    that u really fully understand what you’re communicating about! I really 100 % am in agreement. With thanks ,Sofia

  • pandalover
    April 21, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    this book is totally awsome 8)

  • loa
    July 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    this was aswome

  • rainbow candy
    September 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Hugo cabret is a book I recommend because the book has a lesson that many people don’t have parents in this world because they are left behind when they are small. Hugo cabret is a 12- year old boy when his father left to the mueseum to fix a invention for Hugo when a fire broke in the museum and his dad died. Hugo needed to live with his uncle in a train staion in paris, while he was with his uncle he was taught how to steel food and hide where police can’t see. Two weeks later Hugo’s uncle disapeared and Hugo found out that his uncle drank too much and fell dead on a canyon. So Hugo needed to be careful living by himself because there was a station inspector who put kids in jail and then a orphanage if he saw a kid alone without a parent. The real story and plot will start now but I don’t want give it all away. Read it and you will find out!

  • Anonymous
    September 7, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    awesome book

  • Anonymous
    October 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    I read the book. Now my teacher is asking me to do a book review on it.

  • Anonymous
    November 19, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    I loved this book. The pictures was amazing!! My English teacher made it even more fun to read! Definitely recommend it to anyone who loves books! :mrgreen:

  • Hatsune Miku
    March 7, 2014 at 8:27 am

    what is the girl’s name?

  • Anonymous
    March 20, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    I read this book in 4th grade

  • Hugo Lover
    April 17, 2014 at 10:59 am

    This book was flawless. It definitely deserved the Caldecott Medal. I would’ve made one change in the plot though. Hugo should’ve found a spaceship and went to Mars. Isabelle was a useless character. She should’ve just stayed at home instead of going to the train station. The stupid machine was stupid as well. Hugo should’ve poured water on Automaton. Those are the only flaws I could find. Otherwise it was great!

  • Hugo Hater
    April 28, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Oh my god Hugo Lover! This book was stupid, not flawless. Although I loved Automaton and Isabelle was perfect. Hugo had just the right amount of adventure to make the book interesting. I couldn’t disagree with you more. Spaceships are stupid! This isn’t a science fiction book! This book was very horrible and the Junie B. Jones series is better than this.

  • Hugo Neutralist
    April 28, 2014 at 10:59 am

    This book was okay, I guess. There were too many pictures, but I guess they followed the story. Hugo’s uncle shouldn’t have died. Isabelle was a good character though. The cover was pretty. This book is nothing compared to Wonder struck ( ) Otherwise I guess I liked the book. Some fixes could’ve been made, but whatever.

  • lollipopyayyyy
    April 28, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I disagree with rainbow candy’s comment.

  • rainbow
    April 28, 2014 at 11:04 am

    rainbow candy haas alot of typos. there terible att lotss fo tings
    in engllishh.

  • pengui24494
    May 1, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Are you crazy? :0 The pictures was awesome! I mean aren’t you tired of the words so much? I mean who does not like pictures in books. No offense to the words. The book was okay, the movie was okay. The book is a little confusing. And the movie have boring parts.

  • Anonymous
    November 24, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    we love hugo !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • keyrrah
    June 28, 2016 at 11:56 am

    this is not helping

  • Drew @ Man About Words
    February 18, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    I personally adored this. Like you, I read it solely because I was intrigued that Scorsese was making the film, and I honestly love both versions of this tale. Selznick’s story is so well developed, I thought. It uses machines as a beautiful symbolism to express the broken pieces of a person and how we can fix ourselves and others. I recently reviewed this myself on my blog and would love your thoughts!

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