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"Wonderstruck" by Brian Selznick


Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick, is beautiful to look at. But it’s so disappointing as a novel. I wanted so much more from this book.

Several years ago, Selznick wrote and illustrated The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which has since been made into a movie called Hugo). Selznick won the Caldecott Award for that book, and many of my colleagues have told me that they thought he should have won the Newbery Award for it. (The Caldecott is given to an artist for the “most distinguished American picture book for children,” while the Newbery is awarded to author for the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”) So, I had really high hopes for Wonderstruck, his latest and much-lauded book. (Full disclosure: I never finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I read half of it and stopped. I don’t recall why, but I’ve been told by many that I should read it in its entirety.)

Unfortunately, I found Wonderstruck clichéd and expected and rather empty. That’s not to say that the book isn’t in some ways quite ingenious. Half the story is told in words – the story of Ben, circa 1977; the other half, that of Rose in the 1920s, is told solely in illustrations until the two stories join. And I think that is a really cool idea. Yet the stories don’t have much substance. Both are about children running away from home in search of something. And they find it. And that’s about that. You can guess early on how the stories will intertwine.

There’s some attempt at literature. For instance, lightning is used throughout the book. But you can’t even call lightning a motif. It’s just used over and over again, without signify anything.

On a good note, the book is more than 600 pages long, but more than 460 of those pages are illustrations, so if you want to read it, it’ll take you no time at all.

Tomorrow my local library association is having our Mock Newbery meeting and discussing eight books: Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kathy Barnhill; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan; Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney; Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt; Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick; and Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman. My vote still goes to Okay for Now. But I’ll probably be outnumbered.

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