Thursday, November 13, 2008

Inventor, or not, This Didn't Fly...

On my cousin's recommendation (THANK YOU, MICHAEL!), I just read the incredible "Invention of Hugo Cabret," (2008 Caldecott Award winner, by Brian Selznick) and I was so sure Logan would love it, since he is an avid devourer of graphic novels like Tintin & Asterix (I was so excited to go find Hugo Cabret at the library, after previewing it at a little bookstore in Northern Michigan this past summer), but my son refused to allow me to read it to him!

Let me recommend it for you all, though, & tell you why it worked for me (& likely for your kids), but not for Logan.

1) It is an historic fiction--I LOVE this! It teaches about the true story of one of the world's most inventive & magical human beings--groundbreaking sci-fi first filmmaker, Georges Méliès--while following a new fictional tale about his life. Homeschoolers could really run for a week with your kids studying the beginning of filmmaking & automatons after/during reading this book. I remember seeing the Georges Méliès film, "A Trip to the Moon," in the Tom Hanks movie, "From The Earth To The Moon" (<--a WONDERFUL series!!!). It was thrilling to know the historic connections as I read this book--and I recommend that movie as a prequel to reading this book, or as further research material (the children will be glad to recognize the photo stills of Méliès' movie).

2) The story is full of mystery, and is a lot of fun to watch unravel! Who is the toy store shopkeeper? Where did Hugo's uncle go? Will the automaton write anything? Who is the girl? Will Hugo get caught? How do all these characters connect, and when will we/they discover those connections?

It ends very neatly, and I appreciate this, too. There are so many complexities to this book, but it remains consistently great from page one to PAGE 550!!

3) It is free of any obscenities. For the most part the kids have a healthy respect for authority, even though they buck it for a purpose (not to be difficult, rebellious, ornery or defiant). They always seem to be TRYING to do what is good & right...they are especially concerned with getting in trouble, even as they break rules for what appears to be a greater good worth the risk...

4) It has several mature themes: the death of adults in the protagonist's life (Hugo's father dies in a fire; his alcoholic uncle drowns, there is no explanation for his mother's absence), the concept of stealing to survive (Hugo is an orphan, living alone), oh, and eight-year-old Hugo kisses "the girl" at one point, too.

5) There is a lot of sneakiness/stealing--which, if walked through with a parent/adult should be addressed as getting the kids into trouble (for the most part)...though it often actually leads to GOOD ("end justifies the means" idea). I'm a little concerned about that with my five-year-old. If your kids are reading the Harry Potter series, then this will likely seem light in comparison. Hugo is terrified that his secret hideaway home will be taken away, and that he'll be sent to an orphanage if anyone knows that his uncle has disappeared and that Hugo lives alone. He steals to eat. He steals to follow his passion & complete his vital project. He does not steal to raise his standing in society, to acquire "the goods;" he steals to survive! I posted a while back about Gever Tully recommending that you teach your children that breaking laws is fairly easty, and can happen innocently. Check that out, again!

6) Think Oliver Twist meets Huckleberry Finn in a Hardy Boys mystery. I definitely felt compassion for Hugo--I think kids will cheer for him & side with him. Selznick is a very talented spinner of tales, so he ought to share company with Dickens, Twain & Dixon!

7) Hugo has been taught as an apprentice--his school experience has been minimal. He misses two boys he previously knew from school, but he is primarily a self-starter, very disciplined, and VERY talented. At age 8 he can invent/create/fix any/all clockwork/machine/gear mechanisms with the right tools and focus. This will really appeal to those of your children who are inventors, themselves. For the Unschooling homeschoolers among us, this is a good demonstration of a child's natural skills/talents coming forth to save his skin (& eventually proving to be his Purpose)!

8) The illustrations are phenomenal! They are interspersed with authentic black & white photography from the era (turn of the 20th Century, France). If your children like graphic novels like my son does, they will likely be entranced by the gorgeous artwork in this book!!

I'm sure I could go on with the pros. The reason my sensitive reader adamantly rejected this was because of those adult themes--as soon as he knew Hugo was stealing he shook his head no, no, no, no! As I read to myself, beside him, I reacted to details with true surprise (audible gasps), after which he'd ask me, "What?" and I'd fill in, "'s pretty sad. Hugo's dad died..." Still, the hints did not draw him back in (perhaps they cemented his opinion), so I had to finish this for my own nighttime reading (gladly!). I did read Huckleberry Finn to Logan a month or so ago, and there are similar themes in Huck Finn & Oliver Twist--stealing to survive, adult alcoholism, lying to cover a story, the plight of an orphaned boy--I was somehow able to convince Logan to let me continue with Finn, but could not with this one OR Twist (perhaps because of Finn). I do not want to force a story on my child that shows adults as ludicrous (drunken) fools, and children as sly & intelligent solvers-of-all-problems.

Huckleberry Finn & Twist definitely pit stupid adults against intelligent children. This book is a softer sell on that concept, since not all the adults are idiots (Hugo's uncle certainly is, though! And, the Station Master doesn't seem too quick, either).

So, here I am, again, trying to find works that fit my 5-year-old who reads like a 15-year-old (we have plenty of recommendations, thank you all!)...and coming squarely against those themes that he does not welcome (that I need not force on him). I was sure this one would be such a hit I'd find him on belly & elbows on the couch for hours with the massive hardcover by himself, but it was a miss (for now).

Your 8-11 year-olds will likely soak this UP!! Think, first, are they ready to manage the themes?

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