Friday, December 23, 2011

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

The wolves will not stop chasing Ben through his dreams. They are wild and persistent, leaving paw prints in the snow next to Gunflint Lake, Minnesota: The boy's home.

Jump back fifty years. Rose lives just outside of New York City, where the bright lights and tall towers tempt her to visit--much against her parents’ wishes. Though separated by time, Ben and Rose are both looking for a place where they can belong. Thus begins Wonderstruck.

The book is a mighty 637 pages, but when it comes to getting children to read such a gargantuan thing, author and illustrator Brian Selznick has a neat trick up his sleeve. Pictures make up 460 pages of the book while the rest is text. It’s a rare medium: a picture book with chapters. So it’s no surprise that Selznick won the Caldecott Medal in 2008 for his first attempt at such a work, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

This time Selznick chose to push himself even further by attempting to tell two separate stories, one entirely in text and the other entirely in pictures. Children can read about Ben’s journey, caused by his mother’s death and a desire to find the father he never knew. In 1977, Ben goes to New York, where he thinks that his dad might have something to do with either a bookstore or the American Museum of Natural History (which mysteriously has a diorama of wolves from Gunflint Lake!). He is, for the moment, deaf after falling victim to a lightning strike. His curiosity and persistence makes up for that fact.

Rose is also deaf. She lives in 1927, and her favorite activity of seeing movies is about to be changed forever. The silent films with intertitles that she can normally read along to are about to be replaced by sound film. Rose must learn to lip read if she is going to make it in the world, and she hates her current teacher. She also escapes to New York on a mission.

As the stories progress, twisting and turning all the way, they merge into a lovely tale of family, connection, and finding the place where we feel like we belong. The inclusion of lyrics from David Bowie and a quote from Oscar Wilde gives young readers a chance to be introduced to other artistic works, perhaps igniting a desire to explore them in their own right.

Selznick’s detailed pencil illustrations breathe and pulse with life. His ability to create a sense of a camera zooming in over a series of pages is cinematic in scope and wonderful in its ability to focus deeply on a subject.

Wonderstruck was an absolute treat. It exceeded my expectations as a follow up to Selznick’s last book and has me looking forward to what he will create in the future. I hope that others will feel the same.

Cross-Posted to LibraryPoint

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