Book Reviews

 Wonderstruck.  Selznick, Brian (author). Illustrated by Brian Selznick.  Sept. 2011. 640p. Scholastic, hardcover, $29.99 (9780545027892). Grades 4-8. REVIEW. First published August, 2011 (Booklist).

Opening Selznick’s new book is like opening a cabinet of wonders—the early museum display case “filled with a nearly infinite variety of amazing things” that is so central to this story. Following the Caldecott Medal–winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007), Selznick offers another visual narrative, one that feels even better suited to his inventive style. The beautifully crafted structure includes two stories set 50 years apart. The first, set in 1977, is told in text and follows Ben, who is grieving the sudden loss of his mother when he stumbles upon clues that point to his father’s identity. The second, told entirely in richly shaded pencil drawings, opens in 1927 as a young girl, Rose, gazes at a newspaper clipping. Rose is deaf, and Ben also loses his hearing, during a lightning strike. Both lonely children run away to New York City, and their parallel stories echo and reflect each other through nuanced details, which lead “like a treasure map” to a conjoined, deeply satisfying conclusion. Selznick plays with a plethora of interwoven themes, including deafness and silence, the ability to see and value the world, family, and the interconnectedness of life. Although the book is hefty, at more than 600 pages, the pace is nevertheless brisk, and the kid-appealing mystery propels the story. With appreciative nods to museums, libraries, and E. L. Konigsburg, Wonderstruck is a gift for the eye, mind, and heart. — Lynn Rutan

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
Selznick, Brian.  Wonderstruck; written and illus. by Brian Selznick. Scholastic, 2011 640p.  ISBN 978-0-545-02789-2 $29.99
Reviewed from galleys      R gr. 5-8
In a return to the form he used for The Invention of Hugo Cabret (BCCB 4/07), Selznick again explores multiple narratives through illustration, text, and the partnership between the two as they overlap or diverge to tell stories. Here, there are two tales, set fifty years apart (1927 and 1977), both about deaf children who are coping with loneliness and loss and attempting to define their identities. Rose’s 1920s search for her mother is told exclusively through illustrations, while Ben’s 1970s quest for family and home unfolds through text, until the two protagonists meet; the book then becomes more of a traditional graphic novel, with text and illustrations working in concert to tell a single narrative. Selznick’s distinctive monochromatic drawings, while always elegant and sometimes startlingly detailed, sometimes lack variety in long stretches of visual narrative, but the story will still keep reader/viewers absorbed. There is a vulnerability, a keen sense of nearly but not actually belonging, that is poignantly conveyed in both Rose and Ben’s journeys, and it is this common thread that will likely stay with readers as much as the nifty natural history collections (a long-term interest for both Rose and Ben) or glimpses into the way deaf children engage with the world. Notes include an explanation of how the author was drawn to exploring Deaf culture and natural history museums, and the places where the two pursuits converged to make this book. A selected bibliography is not always an exact age/reading match but will certainly send curious readers in the right directions.  AS

Horn Book Magazine:

Selznick, Brian; illus. by the author   Wonderstruck
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    640 pp.
9/11    978-0-545-02789-2    $29.99    g

With its opening wordless sequence of an approaching wolf, readers might think they’ve embarked upon a Gary Paulsen novel—but this is a story not of wilderness adventure but of two young people running for their lives. The pictures (pencil, double-page spread, wordless) follow a young girl, Rose, living in material comfort but also emotional distress in 1927 Hoboken; the  text is set in 1977 in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters region, where a boy, Ben, struggles with the death of his mother and the loss of his hearing. Yes, Rose and Ben eventually meet, as do the text and pictures, but both stories are encumbered by the conclusion of the book, which, in resolving many themes and mysteries, dictates too much of what has gone before—it feels as if the narrative was composed backward rather than arising organically from its beginnings. For example, Rose’s childhood hobby of constructing model buildings from the pages of hated books doesn’t seem to follow from anything, but it does give her an adult career at New York’s Museum of Natural History, where Ben also finds himself after several similarly belabored circumstances. Still, there is much technical brilliance here, both in the segues between text and pictures and between the pictures themselves, as in a scene where Rose, locked in a room, seems to be contemplating the many photographs on a wall, but a page turn reveals that Rose has actually spotted a window—and escapes. While Ben’s story suffers from an excess of telling rather than showing, he (Rose, too) is open-hearted and easy to love. The intricate puzzle-solving of the plot gets a generous and welcome shot of straightforward emotion when Ben is given an unabashedly romantic friendship with another boy, Jamie, with whom he experiences the wonders of the museum in secret and at night, a nod to E. L. Konigsburg that Selznick acknowledges in an informative closing note. roger sutton

(from the September/October 2011 Horn Book Magazine)

Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine by permission of The Horn Book, Inc., www.hbook.com

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