WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick
Kirkus Star

WONDERSTRUCK

by , illustrated by
Age Range: 9 & up

KIRKUS REVIEW

Brian Selznick didn't have to do it.

He didn't have to return to the groundbreaking pictures-and-text format that stunned the children's-book world in 2007 and won him an unlikely—though entirely deserved—Caldecott medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Weighing in at about two pounds, the 500-plus page tome combined textual and visual storytelling in a way no one had quite seen before.

In a world where the new becomes old in the blink of an eye, Selznick could have honorably rested on his laurels and returned to the standard 32-to-48–page picture-book format he has already mastered. He didn't have to try to top himself.

But he has.

If Hugo Cabret was a risky experiment that succeeded beyond Selznick and publisher Scholastic’s wildest dreams (well, maybe not Scholastic’s—they dream big), his follow-up, Wonderstruck, is a far riskier enterprise. In replicating the storytelling format of Hugo, Selznick begs comparisons that could easily find Wonderstruck wanting or just seem stale.

Like its predecessor, this self-described "novel in words and pictures" opens with a cinematic, multi-page, wordless black-and-white sequence: Two wolves lope through a wooded landscape, the illustrator's "camera" zooming in to the eye of one till readers are lost in its pupil. The scene changes abruptly, to Gunflint Lake, Minn., in 1977. Prose describes how Ben Wilson, age 12, wakes from a nightmare about wolves. He's three months an orphan, living with his aunt and cousins after his mother's death in an automobile accident; he never knew his father. Then the scene cuts again, to Hoboken in 1927. A sequence of Selznick's now-trademark densely crosshatched black-and-white drawings introduces readers to a girl, clearly lonely, who lives in an attic room that looks out at New York City and that is filled with movie-star memorabilia and models—scads of them—of the skyscrapers of New York.

Readers know that the two stories will converge, but Selznick keeps them guessing, cutting back and forth with expert precision. Both children leave their unhappy homes and head to New York City, Ben hoping to find his father and the girl also in search of family. The girl, readers learn, is deaf; her silent world is brilliantly evoked in wordless sequences, while Ben’s story unfolds in prose. Both stories are equally immersive and impeccably paced.

The two threads come together at the American Museum of Natural History, Selznick's words and pictures communicating total exhilaration (and conscious homage to The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Hugo brought the bygone excitement of silent movies to children; Wonderstruck shows them the thrilling possibilities of museums in a way Night at the Museum doesn't even bother to.

Visually stunning, completely compelling, Wonderstruck demonstrates a mastery and maturity that proves that, yes, lightning can strike twice. (Historical fiction. 9 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-545-02789-2
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2011




2011 BEST BOOKS FOR CHILDREN: EXPLORING THE PAST:

Children ORANI by Claire A. Nivola
by Claire A. Nivola
Children AROUND THE WORLD by Matt Phelan
by Matt Phelan
Children WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick
by Brian Selznick
Children CITY OF ORPHANS by Avi
by Avi

MORE BY BRIAN SELZNICK

ChildrenTHE HUGO MOVIE COMPANION by Brian Selznick
by Brian Selznick
ChildrenTHE RUNAWAY DOLLS by Ann M. Martin
by Ann M. Martin
ChildrenTHE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick
by Brian Selznick

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

ChildrenTHE BIG FIX by Nathan Sacks
by Nathan Sacks
ChildrenTHE MEMORY BANK by Carolyn Coman
by Carolyn Coman
ChildrenTHE NINE-TON CAT by Peggy Thomson
by Peggy Thomson