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The power of books: WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick

I just finished reading Wonderstruck, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. This awe-inspiring novel–alternating pages with only words with picture-only pages–tells the story of a young boy named Ben in 1977 and a young deaf girl, Rose living in 1927.  Both flee to New York City in search of answers and a sense of belonging. Rather than dwelling on the isolation and sadness one feels during tragedy, the book is hopeful–more about Ben’s journey and what he discovers by escaping to the Museum of Natural History (a bit reminiscent of one of my favorite childhood books, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler), how his life connects with Rose, and what we learn about ourselves or other people by the objects we collect, preserve and pass on.

A great children’s book does not end when we finish reading the story but lives on; when we think about it, talk about it, compels us to read it again or becomes a launch pad for own creative explorations. After reading Wonderstruck you may want to visit the Museum of Natural History, read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or The Invention of Hugo Cabret, learn sign language, study wolves, look at the stars, curate your own museum collection or make your own curiosity cabinets.

I heard Brian speak a few years ago at the Rhode Island Festival of Children’s Books and Authors in Providence after he had written his award winning book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I loved hearing Brian talk about his art and passion for story telling and the mechanics of making books. He believes in–and proves through his novels–the power of books and how a story, if compelling, will force you to turn the page to find out what happens next. He demonstrated this power by sharing the picture book, Fortunately by Remy Charlip – a simple book with few words about a series of actions that could result in danger at any moment with the only way to learn what happens next is by turning the page.

In Wonderstruck (as with The Invention of Hugo Cabret), Brian often draws a series of pictures that start out far away and with each turn of the page, the following picture shows a closer up view of the scene until we are literally turning the pages of the book to zoom into the detail that Brian wants us to focus on, only to have the next page full of words or a mix of more white space than words, to continue the story. Part of me wants to race through the text to get to the next set of drawings and part of me wants to savor the words, hearing the characters speak.

This book is why I read “real” books and not ones on an electronic book device. I love the look and feel of the color cover – the mix of matte and metallic ink. The embossed lettering invites us to physically touch the book which is thick and weighty and only available in hardcover. Inside the book, there is no color, only black, white and gray from the pencil strokes. A true artful reading experience. Enjoy!

The Details:
by Brian Selznick
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover, 608 pages
Website: www.wonderstruckthebook.com/

On NPR: A Novel Approach to Pciture Books


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