I remember the first time I saw The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. When I opened this thick book, I was intrigued and brought it home to read that night. Hugo Cabret is one story told in both black and white pencil drawings and words. In 2008, the Caldecott Medal was awarded to it for best illustrated children’s book (the first novel ever to win this honor). After I read it, I put it in the hands of as many children and parents as I could. For the last few years, as children came into the library looking for a book like Hugo Cabret, I struggled to find one. Well, at long last, it’s here — Brian Selznick‘s newest book Wonderstruck.
Wonderstruck weaves together two stories set 50 years apart. Rose, who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927, and Ben, who lives in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, are twelve-year-olds looking for someone who’s missing in their life. They are also both deaf. Rose longs for her silent film actress mother who has left the family to pursue her acting career and Ben longs for the father he knows little about. Both leave their families and head to New York City to track down their absent parents. Rose’s story is told in pictures and Ben’s in words.
My mom called me from Minnesota a couple of weeks ago to tell me that Brian Selznick was touring in the Bay Area in the coming week, and shouldn’t be missed. I cleared my schedule and headed to Petaluma to see him at the Mystic Theater along with about 500 school children. My mom was right, he didn’t disappoint. He was so honest about the difficulties and the time it takes to create a book. The drawings come first and are easiest for him, and the writing comes second and takes him a lot longer. He’s an impeccable researcher. He described working with two Deaf scholars to learn more and told us how devastating the change from silent film to sound film was for the Deaf community.
Frankly, it’s a daunting task to describe Wonderstruck. Following two deaf characters as they navigate their way through busy New York City on their own is just one reason to read this book. Seeing the American Museum of Natural History as it was in 1927 is another, and finding out how the worlds of Rose and Ben come together is just one more. Selznick may even win another medal for this one or possibly two. Could a book ever be awarded both the Caldecott and the Newbery? I think this one has a chance.