I recently had the opportunity to read author/illustrator Brian Selznick’s latest, Wonderstruck, a book that in many ways continues what Selznick started with his 2008 Caldecott Medal-winning book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Wonderstruck, like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is a cinematic book—not only in the gorgeous and wholly unique synthesis of word and illustration, but also in its contextual interest in the history of film. While Hugo Cabret dwells on the magic of earliest cinema, one storyline in Wonderstruck explores the transition from silent film to sound through the eyes of a deaf girl. Such a subtext is perfect in a book told in two such parallel storylines—one storyline told in words, one in pictures. I am not giving too much away in saying that the deaf character’s story plays out like a silent film. Selznick tells her story almost entirely in hundreds of luminous black and white pencil sketches.
Seeing the transition from silent to sound film unfold through the eyes of an early twentieth century deaf girl gives that moment in history a whole new perspective. But the exploration of cinematic history is not the focus of this book in the same way that it was the focus of Hugo Cabret. While both books do share the same themes of gaining a sense of belonging and discovering one’s place in the world, Wonderstruck has many fascinating layers aside from the cinematic. New York City history, deaf culture, and the fascinating story of the American Museum of Natural History are all dimensions of this well-crafted and visually captivating narrative.
Such a unique array of themes and subplots render this a book that refreshes our perspective on how we see and hear our world and the people that inhabit it. This book is indeed a wonder to behold in its varying shades—thematic and artistic—of black and white, light and sound.
I do have to say, one wonders if Selznick’s next book might perhaps include a narrative commentary on the advent of color cinema?
Book illustration found here.