hugo cabret

The Invention of Hugo
by Brian Selznick
We gave Sam The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick for Christmas. Sam and I have been reading it together ever since. (For the complete story, see my post on Two Writing Teachers.)

This book impacts me as a writer. It impacts my teaching. Here are a few teaching points I can see using Hugo for in minilessons or conferences:

  • Pictures and words work together to tell the complete story. There is information in the pictures you can’t get from words and information in the words you can’t get from pictures.
  • The details Selznick selects — both in pictures and words — are remarkable. I’ve found myself thinking about how he is intentional about the bits he decides to disclose. The emotions and clothes and setting and conversations are all very intentional. I think this is a crucial discussion to have with young writers. So often we just want them to add more. Writing is about selecting what you’re going to add and being intentional about the details.
  • The way internal and external conflict work together is impressive. I want to do this more as a writer. Hugo’s world is balancing on  a sliver. He is barely keeping it all together and Selznick makes us live in this place as readers. The external conflict piles and so does the internal conflict. It is the source of tension for the reader and is developed with sophistication and subtlety.
  • In the final chapter the point of view changes from third person to first person. It is powerful. I want to try this as a writer — shifting the point of view within a story. I’d love to see what kids can do with this technique as well.
All in all, it’s about being purposeful in crafting the story. I feel like I’ve been given a gift with this story. I’m  a better writer, teacher, and person from reading it. It inspires me to be purposeful in my writing life.
{Later this week I’m going to share how I see research being an integral part of writing narrative, using The Invention as Hugo Cabret as evidence.}

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  1. I'm so glad I didn't have a Sam making me wait when I read Hugo earlier this year. Although I understand Sam's wanting to savor it….such a beautiful story. And now I may need to go back and read the last chapters again….

    I bought Wonderstruck after I read Hugo because I became such a fan of Selznik's writing. I haven't read it yet, but I think it might be my Easter break reading

  2. I gave Sam WONDERSTRUCK after we finished HUGO. His mouth dropped open — “You mean there's more?” he said. We'll be reading it at the same time as you (although I'm sure you'll finish much sooner!)

  3. I am so glad that you shared the dialogue between you and Sam on your Two Writing Teachers posts. I remember flying through Hugo Cabret and could really picture how agonizing it must have been for you to wait a week to see what was going to happen, and yet, I also loved Sam's rationale. I was also going to mention Wonderstruck. I still have not bought it yet, and I look forward to hearing more about it.

    I just brought Hugo Cabret to my office this morning to share with my Children's Lit class on Friday. Now I will be able to share your posts as well.

  4. I enjoyed all your points, Ruth, but especially that one about the selection of “what” to add when adding details. Instead of those words “add more details”, it will take a lesson & some practice to help students see it's a decision of importance of which to add. It & Wonderstruck (different from Hugo-so exciting in its own way) are extraordinary books!

  5. I always try to have a YA fiction or picture story book in my 'currently reading' pile. I tend to read them as a teacher of writers – looking for the writer's craft and how I can use it as a mentor text. Hugo is in the 'to select from pile'. Thank you for all your suggestion on how this book can be used as a mentor text. I might just bump it up to the read next pile.

  6. Ruth,

    I loved the story of you and Sam and Hugo. I miss those days of cuddling up with my kids and a good book! I don't know why I haven't read this sooner…my TBR pile is now a tower. I will tackle it next week on our break, but will only shrink it a bit as I tend to read books a bit slower than some. I am a savorer, like Sam and also a multi-tasker, reading at least a couple of books at a time. Thank you for the writing/teaching implications too. Your thoughts about adding intentional details is lingering in my mind tonight.
    ~ Theresa