Monday, January 2, 2012


By Brian Selznick

(Scholastic, 2011)

Normally I post about picture books, but Wonderstruck is like a picture tome, coming in at more than 600 pages. It is currently a hot read at my school—I had to snatch a copy from the public library—and follows Selznick’s previous epic The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Part of the appeal for these books is that they are undeniably fun reads. How cool to cart a massive book around and finish it in a day or two! The text is easy to read and regularly interrupted with pages of Selznick’s pencil sketches which advance the story. In no time, the reader has swept through the first hundred pages. By then, there is no going back. When finished, there is a greater feeling of accomplishment than reading a shorter, traditional novel that actually has more text. Sometimes size matters when seeking to boost reading attitudes.

The story jumps back and forth from the text-driven setting of Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, 1977, to the sketched story that begins in Hoboken, New Jersey, 1927. I shall focus on the events arising in Gunflint Lake where eleven-year-old Ben bunks with his very different cousin Robby after the recent death of Ben’s mother in a car accident. On a hot, stormy night, Ben creeps back to his mother’s house on the neighboring lot, only to make some surprising discoveries, including a book about museums, entitled “Wonderstruck”, and a locket belonging to his mother with a picture inside of a man named Daniel.

Ben, already deaf in one ear, dials a phone number in the middle of the storm and becomes completely deaf due to a lightning strike. While hospitalized in Duluth, Ben hops a bus to New York in search of the man in the locket whom he suspects may be his never-known father. Being young and deaf in New York City can be scary, even dangerous as Ben soon discovers. But Ben finds shelter in the American Museum of Natural History, Selznick’s tribute of sorts to E.L. Konigsburg’s classic From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Like The Mixed-up Files, Wonderstruck should tweak readers’ interest in museums and galleries and in understanding the past. But what stands out more is Selznick’s portrayal of living as a deaf person. The girl from 1927 is also deaf. Eventually, in searching for Daniel, Ben and the girl from the past meet up, introducing the reader to another magnificent museum piece.

Selznick’s sketches are outstanding in their detail. While many a reader will flip rapidly through these pages, the works should be pondered for their wordless portrayals of the past and for the artistic skill that is evident on each page. For me, Selznick’s greatest artistic achievement comes in the realism he conveys through characters’ eyes.

This is the kind of Big Book that, like the Harry Potter series, will get tweens keen to reread the same book, to talk excitedly about a common work and to explore other books. And all that is truly Wonderful!


  1. Thanks, Gregory,
    This book sounds great. You gave us just enough info. I'm going to try to get it for our library, as I know exactly what you mean. I've had many a kid carry around hefty Hugo and beam proudly to finish such a big book quickly.

    Thanks for sharing about a book I hadn't heard of yet.


  2. Thanks for posting the comment, Denise. If Hugo is a hit, Wonderstruck is the next logical selection to build on the reading momentum!