Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick--Glogster

Bibliography: Selznick, B. (2007). The invention of Hugo Cabret: A novel in words and pictures. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

Summary: Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks--like the gears of the clocks he keeps--with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the train station, Hugo's undercover life and his most precious secret are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery (Scholastic Press).

Tool: Glogster

Because Brian Selznick has already taken such a unique approach to visual storytelling, I wanted to create something beautiful and slightly abstract in order to do The Invention of Hugo Cabret justice. Glogster is certainly a tool for people who want to create. Its tagline is "Poster Yourself," and the tool acts concurrently as an alternative to blogging, a form of social networking, and a medium in which to create sharable art.

While blogs are certainly an important means of sharing information, and while much of that infomation can be visual, they are text-based. The whole premise of the original "web log" is that it serves as sort of an online journal. Anyone who has seen Roger Kumble's Cruel Intentions, however, knows that journalling is so effective because it often goes beyond relying on text to express ideas: many people, particularly young people, express themselves through illustration. (If you have seen Cruel Intentions, think about Sebastian's telling drawing of Kathryn's crucifix.) Glogster is a "blog" of sorts designed especially for this demographic. Each "entry" or "post" is actually an online poster, and users, or "gloggers," can incorporate images, video, audio, and text into their glogs in a collage format, making ideal for those who want to move self-expression beyond basic blogging.

The community aspect of Glogster is an interesting feature of this tool. Like any social networking site, users may add friends, message each other, either privately or publicly, and comment on each other's glogs. From my time on the Glogster message boards, I have observed that this particular social network is pretty close-knit. My student aide says that Glogster is for goths, and while it may be true that many alternative-type people are drawn to the tool, Glogster is a supportive community for artists in general. For example, my glog, which, like the book that inspired it, is an homage to pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès, steampunk, Paris, and the death of the Victorian era, has received very positive feedback from other gloggers. If you are interested in using Glogster, please take the time to peruse and maybe comment on others' posters. There is a lot of great self-expression there.

Review: With his integration of words and pictures, Brian Selznick has created an innovative reading experience unlike any other I have encountered. With The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the only YA book to have won the Caldecott award, Selznick treats the reader to a night at the movies. Using both his own illustrations and stills from silent films, he mimics a silent film-watching experience, right down to early film technique. Zooms, panning, long shots, and even high-speed chase scenes are all represented in Selznick’s novel, albeit frame by frame.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
is a novel that could only exist in the twentieth century and beyond because it assumes visual literacy. The film medium altered forever the way human beings process a story. Flashbacks, viewing a scene from a different perspective other than the camera’s, cutting to a different location, montage—-viewers take these seemingly basic elements of visual storytelling for granted, but actually nonlinear storytelling is a relatively recent development that can only exist because of such dreamers as Georges Méliès, one of the pioneers of movie-making and a central character in Hugo’s life. A magician by trade, Méliès began conveying his illusions through the camera, becoming the first formalist filmmaker with his still-celebrated A Trip to the Moon. (Formalist directors create stylistically flamboyant films and concentrate on expressing their subjective experience of reality. Realistic filmmakers, such as the Lumière brothers, credited with inventing the film medium, attempt to show reality objectively. In The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick also pays tribute to their Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat.)

While reading this book, however, I could not stop thinking about another tribute to the movies, Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino, another formalist filmmaker. Pre-war France loved cinema, but as I watched Hugo run through the streets of Paris, I knew what was coming for him and for his beloved movies, and it hurt. In 1931, Hugo Cabret was twelve years old, and when the German army marched through Paris, he would have been twenty. What happens to him? The reader knows he grows up to become a magician like his mentor, but nothing more is said. Like the movies, Selznick has created an enclosed world, and all we know is what we are given before the curtain comes down. But perhaps the storytelling experience is more magical this way. Hugo will never age, Méliès will never be forgotten, and what happens next is up to the reader/viewer’s imagination. Grades 4-9.

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