Graphic beauties: The Arrival and The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Arrival cover

The Arrival, Shaun Tan: I almost never say this, but you must all go find this book and “read” it now. (Is it reading if there are no words? Parse it? Consume it? Anyway…) My friend Alison of the Wellesley Booksmith showed this off at a teachers-and-librarians event last fall, and I’ve been longing to spend more time with it ever since.

Ok, shut up with the vague kvelling, already. This is the story of a man who escapes his threatened home to start a new life on foreign shores, leaving his wife and daughter behind until he has enough money to send for them. It’s told entirely in rich sepia-toned pencil drawings (click that link to look at more pictures, but don’t read the text — the book is more powerful if you let it unfold slowly).

I normally have trouble without words, but The Arrival was perfectly clear. The story is not about immigrating from or to a particular place at a particular time. Words would have tied the story down to specifics — the fantasy images immerse the reader in the mystifying immigrant experience in general.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret cover

The Adventure of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick: This year’s Caldecott Medal winner isn’t a “picture book” in the usual sense. It’s more of a YA novel, told half in words and half in pictures, “evok[ing] the flickering images of the silent films to which the book pays homage” (as the Caldecott blurb says).

I didn’t know about the silent movie angle when I started it, and from the title and the drawings and the mysterious automaton that is the Invention, I expected a story with a touch of magic and fantasy. It was a bit of a let-down for me to find the story tied to a real person, Georges Melies, a director of silent films who invented the early versions of many of the special effects we use today. It shouldn’t have been a let-down, though, because Melies’s work is every bit as fantastic as my imagined magical automaton. So now you know to expect it and won’t be unfairly disappointed!

Being introduced to Melies turned out to be the best part of the book for me. I found the story overly simplistic, and the characters constantly keep pointless secrets from each other just to draw out the story. But the pictures are lovely, and the technique of telling chunks of story with film-scene-like drawings is a neat trick. Certainly worth a look if you’re into creative storytelling devices.

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One Response to Graphic beauties: The Arrival and The Invention of Hugo Cabret

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