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Review: Wonderstruck

Fans of The Invention of Hugo Cabret have long waited to see what author/illustrator Brian Selznick would do next with his groundbreaking format. Could he meet or exceed reader’s expectations? Finally, his latest book has been released—will it receive the same accolades as before?

Selznick, Brian
Ages 9-14
Scholastic, September  2011
ISBN: 978-0-545-02789-2
$29.99, 640 pp.

Wonderstruck is actually two stories. One story is told entirely in text and the other story is told entirely in pictures. Eventually the two stories merge into one, creating a satisfying conclusion for all.

The first story, which is told in text, is set in the 1970s. Ben Wilson runs away to New York City in order to find his father. He has recently become deaf after lightning struck the house where he and his mother had once lived. When he gets to New York his money is stolen, the only two clues to his father’s whereabouts turn out to be dead ends, and he eventually hides in the Museum of Natural History with his newfound friend Jamie.

The second story, told entirely in pictures, is set 50 years earlier in 1927.  Rose, a young deaf girl, runs to New York to escape a solitary life in Hoboken, NJ, and to see her glamorous mother on stage. She too ends up in the Museum of Natural History.

The two stories, one told in text and the other in pictures, seamlessly move from one to the next. And the characters are very likable. Readers will feel for Ben, newly deaf and with no parents. Readers will be intrigued by Rose and her story. Selznick paces the story well and doesn’t reveal that she is deaf right away or why she wants to run to New York. Finally, there’s Jamie, Ben’s new-found friend, who does a lot to help out the new kid in need—but why does he seem to be holding back some of the help?

The pencil drawings are intricate and detailed. Every detail in the picture counts, and I found that I was taking longer to “read” the wordless story than the actual text because I wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Selznick also alternates between “zooming in” to his subject and “zooming out.” Sometimes he starts with the entire picture and brings you closer and closer, while other times he focuses in on one detail and “pans out.”  Either way, his artwork has a bit of a cinematic effect, a technique that Selznick carried over from Hugo Cabret, even though these are two entirely different books.

While this story isn’t told with the traditional panels and word balloons, the art is told in sequential form, and readers will have to use the same brain muscles they use to read comics to comprehend the story.

Now that I have finally written this review, I can pass along my copy of the ARC to my niece and nephew. They both loved Hugo, especially my niece, and at the time she was the most reluctant reader I had ever met. I think they’ll enjoy this just as much.

Will this get the accolades it deserves? We’ll have to wait and see.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Scholastic.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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