Each year, the Caldecott Medal is awarded to the children's book with the most distinguished illustrations; the 2008 medal went to "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick.
"The Invention of Hugo Cabret" is a self-proclaimed illustrated novel about a young boy named Hugo. After the death of his father, Hugo goes to live with his uncle, who teaches him everything about the clocks in the train station. One day, his uncle vanishes, and Hugo becomes the Timekeeper, living inside the walls of the Paris train station, adjusting and repairing the clocks.
Hugo steals toys from a toy booth owned by Georges Melies. Hugo uses the parts to fix an automaton-a mechanical figure-that his father had found in the attic of a museum. The automation is made of many moving parts and is sitting at a desk with a pen in his hand. Hugo is convinced that if he can fix the contraption, the automaton will write a note to Hugo from his father.
Hugo relies on a notebook that his father put together that contains drawings to help him put the automaton back together. One day, Hugo is caught stealing toys from the toy booth. Georges takes the notebook as collateral until the boy can work enough to pay for all the stolen toys.
Hugo continues to keep the train station clocks working as he works at the toy booth for Georges. At night, Hugo tries to put the automaton back together without the notebook, and he is successful.
Isabelle, George's goddaughter, hangs around the train station. She finds the notebook for Hugo and returns it to him. Isabelle discovers Hugo's home, in the walls, at the same time Hugo discovers Isabelle's heart-shaped key that fits the automaton.
Unnoticed, Hugo steals the key and places it in the automaton. Isabelle and Hugo watch the mechanical man start to draw. A strange picture of the moon is drawn, and Georges Melies name is signed at the bottom. Hugo is surprised.
The children decide to ask Georges about the automaton. Reluctantly, Georges explains that he was a magician, and long ago, he'd also built the automaton. Georges tells how he fell in love with the movies and how he started making films. But after the war and the death of Isabelle's parents, Georges decides to forget the cinema, and he purchases the toy booth.
The story ends with Georges Melies being recognized as one of the greatest film makers of his time. Many of his movies were found and restored, allowing his work to be reinvented and his old life to be restored.
Although Hugo actually doesn't invent anything, he does help re-invent a man who had lost his past, and Hugo invents himself a new family and a future.
The illustrations in "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," along with the mysterious plot, invite boys into a world of reading without words on every page. This book would be a wonderful Christmas gift for any boy who loves comics, movies or magic.
Caroline Dotson, of Downtown Books, reviews books for the Craig Daily Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.