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For Readers Age 9 - 12
Grades 4th - 8th

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Review
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Publisher's Description:

Selznick, Brian. (2007) The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Scholastic Press. ISBN-10: 0439813786 Ages 9-12. Grades 4-7.

Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo's undercover life and his most precious secret are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

Respect for self and others:This includes integrity (adherence to a code of conduct or value system), honesty vs. manipulation or lying, compassion, caring for others (characters not focused on getting their way no matter what) self respect--main character does not let others denigrate him or her; use of self control and self-discipline ; taking charge of own behaviour; fairness to others (such as taking turns and avoiding the blame game). Reader should ask themselves “How does the protagonist depict their peers?” “Would you want others to treat you this way? Should everyone act this way?” This includes true friendships that do not involve regular lying, deceit or manipulation; considering consequences of actions prior to acting; owning up to responsibility once an action has been taken.

This book takes us through the growth and maturation of its two young characters, Hugo and Isabelle. They make mistakes but through dialogue and narration, we know it is done with honorable intentions. Although the uncle has Hugo steal from the toy shop owner as part of his survival, he does not damage goods or facilities, manipulate, etc. as is often portrayed in today’s media and literature. We are told on page 142 that “He preferred to pay for what he could ... and tried not to steal anything he thought people needed.” Thus integrity is demonstrated even though he is forced to give into survival tactics.

The characters show remorse and emotion. Hugo is willing to trust the girl, Isabelle, living with the shopkeeper, and his “heart sank” when he realized he had been mean to her. He feels guilt for the death of his father, but it is not a self-destructive guilt. The shopkeeper, although stern and stubborn, shows caring for Hugo in that tough, classic style of old.

In this story, Hugo also explores friendships, particularly questioning how he could be a friend when he held secrets. Isabelle’s friend Entienne circumvents Hugo possibly stealing a book by giving him a coin to purchase it. Time and again, various characters have a choice to do nothing or to show kindness, and kindness wins out each time.

Optimism prevails in this story regardless of Hugo’s uncertain future. No matter what circumstances a person endures, they have a purpose to exist. This comes to fruition when Hugo tells Isabelle how he figures the world is like one big machine with the exact number of parts it needs. He then figures he must be here (alive) for a reason too. (P. 378)

Portrayal of Authority figures:The positive portrayal of parents, teachers, police officers and other “good” authority figures common in a child’s life is a positive influence upon the child’s own moral development. This includes actively-parenting mother and father figures. Minimization of parental involvement in the character’s activities or the portrayal of authority figures as inferior present poor role models. Also to be avoided are main characters that deceive parents and teachers to accomplish goals, and overuse sarcasm towards authority figures. Ask yourself “Are parents seen as positive or negative influence in the character's life?”

Adults and authority figures (such as the station inspector) are portrayed accurately for the era (1931). Early on in the story, Hugo considers tackling the toy shop owner to retrieve his notebook, but decides not to due to lack of strength. Although his uncle was an alcoholic, Hugo obeys him. The shopkeeper and wife are also respected and obeyed. The children do not talk back to adults nor is there any negative self-talk.

Citizenship and Patriotism:Loyalty to family, team or group, school, community and world; caring for and being considerate of these groups. Pride to be part of that group or nationality.

Orphaned, Hugo wants to keep hold of his past through objects. These are his family ties, so important that he will consider any means to recover them. We see the close relationship he had with his father, the interests and skills they shared. Whenever Hugo demonstrates his acuity for clockworks and fixing things, we feel his father’s presence with him.

Justice and Balance:a just distribution between good and evil (with good outweighing evil in the presence of the storyline); demonstration of right and wrong; making decisions to enact the above values rather than simply choosing from two bad possibilities; Ask yourself “Is the emphasis on the positive elements or negative?”

A redemptive tale, there is great balance of good and evil, with good prevailing. Hugo has many opportunities to make bad choices, to be uncaring, to be mean, but he longs to be good.

Aesthetic Aspects of Life Experience:Look for a storyline portrayal of beauty, health, and selfless love vs. hedonistic behaviours (sexuality, selfishness, obsessiveness, materialism), profanity, gore and violence. Are nature and environment respected or exploited? Look for dark elements; watch out for humor that is negative, denigrates others excessively, uses metaphors to denigrate the sacred.

The author has stylistically created the feeling of watching a silent movie. The illustrations are rich and complete the story well, placing the reader mentally within that train station. The storyline is beautiful, creating a nostalgic feeling for the “good old days”.

Other Things to Consider:Other aspects of this book of interest or importance. For example, does it portray Wiccan practices and accurate use of tools of which some parents might object, does it contain hidden meanings in metaphors that may prove offensive to some families; does it address personal issues such as puberty or pregnancy.

This is a story of intrigue and heartfelt feelings, with no hidden meanings or implications. It is filled with incidences of characters choosing to act with integrity, kindness and strength. Hugo’s need to steal provides opportunity time and again to see that he would not do so if he had the choice. It might be easier to say what this book lacks: it lacks negativity. It is a story of struggle, the instinct to survive while maintaining one’s humanity.

So what do YOU think? Read our thoughts on the book and join in the discussion on the Litland Reviews blog!

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