Kaleidoscope: A Review

“Maybe this is what it’s like to be inside the mind of God. The past and the future mean nothing, and the time is always now.”

Kaleidoscope by Brian SelznickIt starts with a ship going to see. Or exploring a wondrous garden. It begins when a boy named James leaves a message for his father with a doll that will be discovered years later, encased in ice.

Always there is searching. There is missing, hoping. There is saying goodbye.

It ends with an invisible key. A spirit machine born out of a dream made reality. With answers found inside inside an apple.

Every spin of the kaleidoscope fragments one story while bringing another into focus. The beginning is always different. The end keeps changing. But always, slowly, there is peace in Kaleidoscope (2021) by Brian Selznick.

Find it on Bookshop.

Selznick’s latest illustrated novel reads as a series of interconnected short stories–mediations on the same themes of loss and separation examined through different lenses. In his author’s note Selznick explains the inspiration he drew directly from the early days of the pandemic when Selznick and his husband were separated for three months–a fracture that inspired more abstraction in his art and eventually led to this story.

Each chapter (or self-contained story depending on your interpretation of the text) begins with a kaleidoscopic image followed by the unabstracted image pulled directly from the story. A namesless narrator tells each story and although the characters change, always there is a nameless character trying to make their way back to James. In some stories like “The Ice” or “The Spirit Machine” the grief is overt while other standout stories (“The Apple” or “In the Dark”) offer more optimism.

Common images and themes throughout each story slowly unfold to bring a larger narrative of connection and loss into focus. While the story lacks any significant female characters, the nameless narrators do serve as a cipher of sorts allowing readers to insert themselves fully into each story.

Kaleidoscope is very much a product of the pandemic. Readers will see that in Selznick’s carefully rendered artwork, the disjointed narratives, the stories that almost but don’t quite but maybe do intersect. Kaleidoscope is a meditative and ultimately hopeful book, ideal for readers seeking a puzzle-like diversion. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales by Chris Van Allsburg et al

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Marvels: A Review

The Marvels by Brian SelznickThe story starts in 1776 with Billy Marvel, the only survivor of a shipwreck. Alone in the world and looking to start over Billy finds himself drawn to a London theater beginning a dynasty of actors and theater performers that will span five generations.

In 1990 Joseph Jervis runs away from his boarding school to the home of an estranged uncle he has never met. Uncle Albert’s house is like nothing Joseph has ever seen. As he struggles to find his place in the world, Joseph will also have to unravel the mystery of the strange Marvel family and how their story is intricately linked to Joseph’s family and his own future in The Marvels (2015) by Brian Selznick.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Marvels is Selznick’s third novel in his innovative blend of traditional prose narrative and wordless illustrations. This time the illustrations and prose offer two distinct stories that blend together in surprising ways by the end of the novel.

The Marvels begins with wordless illustrations following the larger-than-life Marvel family and their exploits on the London stage from 1776 with Billy Marvel down to 1900 when young Leo Marvel wonders if it is time to choose another path.

The prose narrative picks up in 1990 as Joseph arrives in London desperate to find somewhere he can call home–even if it is with a prickly uncle he has never met in a strange house filled with artifacts whose important Joseph will come to understand over the course of the book.

The less you know about The Marvels before you read it, the better. This book is one that should be experienced cold as readers work with Joseph to make sense of Uncle Albert’s mysterious house and all of the secrets it holds.

The Marvels is an obvious progression of Selznick’s work as he masterfully brings together two seemingly unrelated narratives to create a cohesive story that is as complex as it is enthralling. Definitely a must-read of 2015.

If you want to know more about Selznick’s inspiration and process, check out this article: http://www.vulture.com/2015/08/brian-selznicks-latest-the-marvels.html

You can also check out the trailer which Selznick created to get a sense of the sweeping beauty of this novel.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Weedflower by Jacqueline Woodson

Liked Wonderstruck? Why not visit the American Museum of Natural History with the author?

Brian Selznick’s latest book Wonderstruck touched on a lot of different subjects and visited several places, with one of the most prominent being the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

During the holidays I visited AMNH to see their origami tree.

Thanks to Mr. Selznick and Scholastic, you can visit the museum any time–with Brian Selznick!–to see the different museum exhibits that played important parts in Wonderstruck from the Wolf Diorama to the Ahnighito Meteorite.

The main page for the virtual field trip can be found here: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/collection/vitural-field-trip-teaching-resources

If you just want to jump in feet first here’s the actual tour video: http://www.scholastic.com/teachbrianselznick/assets/video.htm

(Thank you to Alexandra Wladich at Scholastic for sharing this super fun resource with me back in December.)

Wonderstruck: A Review

Wonderstruck by Brian SelznickIn 1977 in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota Ben’s mother just died. Ben has to share a room with his annoying cousin who makes fun of him for being born deaf in one ear even though his old house–the cottage he shared with his mom–is right down the road. Ben is drawn back to the cottage as strongly as he is to the wolves that chase him in his dreams. When a clue about the father he’s never met points to New York City, Ben knows he has to follow it.

In 1927, Rose is suffocating at home with her father in Hoboken, New Jersey. All Rose wants is to be able to go out by herself, like the other kids, and to watch Lillian Mayhew in silent films. When Rose learns that sound is coming to the movies and that Lillian Mayhew is starring in a play right across the river in New York City, how can she stay away?

Will New York City reveal its secrets for Ben and Rose? Will either of them find what they’re searching for in Wonderstruck (2011) by Brian Selznick?

Find it on Bookshop.

Wonderstruck is Selznick’s second book told in words and pictures like his Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. In this book Ben’s story in words intertwines in surprising ways with Rose’s story told through pictures.

Although the format is still brilliant and the story is once again clever and utterly original Wonderstruck lacks some of the verve and guileless charm of Hugo Cabret. The story is messier with a more immediate sense of loss and details that never tie together quite as neatly as they did in Selznick’s earlier novel.*

New York’s American Museum of Natural History plays a prominent role in this story adding a nice to dimension to the story that will make it especially appealing for some readers** but Wonderstruck felt very busy as though it was tackling too much in one book.

That is not to say that Brian Selznick is not a genius. He is–that fact is beyond debate. He combines words and pictures in a new way reinventing the whole idea of printed stories and blurring the line between prose fiction and picture books. His books are also always filled with historical details and facts that are well documented in a bibliography at the end of the story. Wonderstruck is a particularly find pick for anyone with an interest in New York City or museums.

*I’m thinking particularly of Jamie’s behavior in the book. Also the fact that Ben never felt much of a loss after the lightning strike. Did anyone else find that odd?

**Like everyone who went to my grade school in 1993. Our building had asbestos so for a few months while it was being removed my entire school was bussed to the AMNH and we had classes there. We ate lunch under the whale every day. True story.

Possible Pairings: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, Holes by Louis Sachar, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Review

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian SelznickA boy walks through the train station like a ghost tending to the station’s numerous clocks. Orphaned and alone, he travels through the hidden passages of the station making sure the clocks run on time to avoid the notice of the Station Inspector.

He does not like tending the clocks by himself or living alone in the station. He especially hates stealing what he needs. But if he is to finish his work, he has no choice. He has to remain invisible

All he has left of his father is an automaton–a mechanical man–that they were trying to rebuild. Once it is complete, the automaton can be wound up and it will write a note. The boy is certain that the note will answer all of his questions and tell him what to do now that he is alone.

The note is going to save his life.

But rebuilding the automaton is not going to be easy. To complete him, he will need special clockwork pieces from the old man who sell toys in the station. When the old man catches the boy stealing, it seems like he will never finish the automaton or learn its secret message.

The year is 1931. The place: Paris. In a train station in the middle of the city lives a boy named Hugo Cabret. His head is full of secrets and his story is about the begin in The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (2007) by Brian Selznick.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a lot of things. It’s a bit of a book, a bit of a picture book, maybe even part graphic novel. It was the 2008 winner of the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children. It is 544 pages long. It is a surprisingly fast read.

The most important thing to remember about this book is that it will not be completely different from every other book you’ve ever read.

Selznick seamlessly blends pictures and words to create a story that is simultaneously literary and cinematic. Set in the era of early cinema, Selznick’s illustrations capture the essence of film stills in book form. The book design is original and often stunning. That is not to say that there is anything superficial about The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick brings depth to both the written and visual elements of this story.

At the same time, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an informative and entertaining story. Hugo’s journey itself is fascinating, to have that story combined with the story of Georges Melies–one of the real pioneers of modern cinema–sets this book apart as something really special. A must read for book lovers and scholars of film and cinema alike.

If you want to see Brian Selznick talk about the book and its inspiration you can watch the video found on the book’s Amazon product page.

Possible Pairings: Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, You Don’t Know Me by David Klass, The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Clockwork by Phillip Pullman, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli