Be Wonderstruck Before the Movie

Contributed by Tripti Thomas

If you’ve never read Brian Selznick’s books, you and your kids are in for a treat. A double treat in fact, because two of his books have been made into acclaimed movies, one playing in theaters as I write. And reading books before watching the movie is a great way to get kids engaged in a story.

I discovered Selznick’s creations when my boys were going through a reading dry spell, periods where nothing in the library entices, and the assigned books from school seem like just another chore. Every reader has had those, and my boys have succumbed to them at various times.

During one particularly arid spell, I was thrilled to discover Brian Selznick’s work on our public library shelves. These proved to be our ride out of the desert and back into wonderland.

Brian Selznick has written a number of books, and three of his more recent are unusual and eye-catching books that defy categorization. They weave together the best of graphic novels and traditional novels. 

In each book, Selznick appears to draw inspiration from wonderful and obscure cultural artifacts: the films of George Melies in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the Wolf Diorama at New York’s American Museum of Natural History in Wonderstruck, and London’s Dennis Severs’ House in The Marvels.

He wraps layers of mystery around these artifacts, involving protagonists who are children dealing with loss or adversity and are seeking answers and their place in the world.

The perspective zooms in and out as though viewed through a camera lens, and quickly grab attention. The cross-hatched drawings and text are rich with clues and cross-references, all of which invite a longer look and a closer read. My dry-spelling readers got quickly absorbed, turning page after page to find out what came next.

Of the three books Selznick has created in this genre, I highly recommend The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. (While The Marvels is gorgeously illustrated, my boys and I found the story convoluted and the text repetitive and stilted. It might work for some readers – just don’t let it be the first Selznick book you try.) These two have the added benefit of having both been adapted into movies—Hugo, by Martin Scorcese (2011), and Wonderstruck by Todd Haynes, released in October this year. You can catch it at a theater near you. 

Watching the movies and discussing the similarities and differences between the original and the adaption can be a great family activity. Because the books reveal more each time you read them, these are great books to own and to give as gifts. They are also excellent books to read-aloud with your kids. 

Read the books, watch the movies, let us know what you think!


Contributed by


Tripti Thomas

Tripti is fanatical about children's books and about keeping kids reading. Her blog BookishBoys is based on her reading adventures with her 2 sons, and aims to inspire a lifelong love of reading among all boys, bookishly inclined or otherwise.

Original version posted on BookishBoys

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