Read First, Watch After: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an epic, 534-page historical fiction graphic novel written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, published in 2007.

The story follows orphan, clock-keeper, petty thief, Hugo. It’s the 1930’s and young Hugo lives tucked away within the walls of the Paris train station, where his survival depends on being able to stay hidden. But his world suddenly shifts when he meets a bookish girl, then a grumpy old man who runs a toy booth in the station. Hugo’s undercover status, and his most precious secret, are thrown in jeopardy when he steps from his hiding place to try and unlock the spellbinding mystery surrounding a cryptic drawing, a notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from his long-gone father.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is gorgeously written – though it’s meant for children, author Selznick holds nothing back in his prose and never “talks down” to children. Here’s an especially lovely passage describing Hugo’s time spent with his new friend, Isabelle:

“They watched the stars, and they saw the moon hanging high above them. The city sparkled below, and the only sound was the steady rhythmic pulse of the clock’s machinery. Hugo remembered another movie he and his father had seen a few years earlier, where time stops in all of Paris, and everyone is frozen in their tracks. But the night watchman of the Eiffel Tower, and some passengers who land in an airplane, are mysteriously able to move around the silent city. What would that be like? Even if all the clocks in the station break down, thought Hugo, time won’t stop. Not even if you really want it to.”

The film adaptation, simply entitled Hugo and directed by the most unlikely of persons – Martin Scorsese, won a 2001 Academy Award and was universally embraced as being truly magical in its artistic use of the 3D format.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is still orphaned in the movie version, and he’s obsessed with the notebook left to him by his late father (Jude Law, seen in flashbacks). Accompanied by the goddaughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) of toy merchant (Ben Kingsley), Hugo embarks on a quest to solve a mystery and find a place he can call home.

Unfurling slowly and yet with never a dull moment over the course of two hours, Hugo is definitely a keeper for the family film library.

While it’s true, Scorsese isn’t the kind of director one might expect to make a fabulous film for families, he is a world-class cinephile and the aspect of the book that covers film history is ramped up and amped up for the screen. It’s a great gateway to talk to your kids about the art of filmmaking, and for them to learn about all the work that goes into making one.

What are some books-turned-films you enjoy reading and watching with the kids? Share your favorites with us!

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Visit Common Sense Media for more info on this movie’s appropriateness for your child.

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