Sunday Salon – Review of “Wonder Struck” by Brian Selznick

The Sunday

Wonder Struck is yet another tour de force from Brian Selznick. The story is about two kids fifty years apart in time who are each trying to find where they belong in the world. Like The Invention of Hugo Cabret (see my review, here), the story is told in both text and images, and oh, what images they are!

The story of Ben, age 12, takes place in 1977, initially in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota. The story of Rose, also age 12, is told almost entirely through pictures, and begins in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. The stories parallel one another as the scene changes to New York City, and they eventually converge in a surprising way at the American Museum of Natural History.

Both of the children have a love for collecting tokens of memories, and for curating them (organizing and looking after them). Ben carried with him a small box, in which he kept mementos that were precious to him. When he got to the museum, and saw the “Cabinets of Wonders” it was as if he were home. And he comes to realize that there is a greater meaning to this activity:

“[Ben] thought about what it meant to curate your own life… What would it be like to pick and choose the objects and stories that would go into your own cabinet? How would Ben curate his own life? And then, thinking about his museum box, and his house, and his books…. He realized he’d already begun doing it. Maybe, though Ben, we are all cabinets of wonders.”

Discussion: When we meet Ben, we discover that he is deaf in one ear, and later sustains an injury to the other ear. Rose was born deaf, but to hearing parents. It is fitting therefore that Rose’s story be told only in pictures, because her world has always been a silent one. Like Rose, we observe how much there is to learn just from focusing on the visual.

On the meta level, Selznick pays tribute to a number of giants on whose shoulders he now so ably stands. One is the great writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak, to whom this book is dedicated. Much of Selznick’s style seems similar to Sendak’s. Faces and eyes are large and expressive, and bodies are blocky and more suggestion of function than form – a technique that puts the focus on the feelings expressed by the character. The landscapes, especially the cityscapes and museum interiors, are full of wondrous details. All of the pictures are rendered cinematically, zooming in to make a point or convey an emotion.

Another tribute paid by Selznick is to E. L. Konigsburg, who won the 1968 Newbery Medal for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In that book, Claudia Kincaid, an 11-year-old girl, runs away from home because she thinks her parents do not appreciate her. She takes her younger brother Jamie with her, and they hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. If you have read Wonder Struck, you will see the parallels.

Evaluation: What can be more wonderful for a reader than when an author follows up a fabulous book with another fabulous book? Selznick, for all the influences on his work, is sui generis, and should not be missed.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Scholastic Press, 2011

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24 Responses to Sunday Salon – Review of “Wonder Struck” by Brian Selznick

  1. sandynawrot says:

    Uh! Uh! I want this book SO BAD! It is on my Christmas list. I hope I’ve been good. And a five out of five?! I’m about to have heart failure.

  2. zibilee says:

    I almost bought this book the other day at the bookstore, but put it back at the last minute. I did get a look at some of the pictures while I was browsing, and you are right, they are just gorgeous. I am so glad that you loved this one and that you had such a good experience with it. It emboldens me to try it out. I might have to get it and pass it to Sandy when I am done! Fantastic review, Jill!

  3. Jenny says:

    I love Selznick’s art but I am a little worried about the story, which is why I haven’t dashed out precipitately to purchase it. Hugo Cabret was beautiful but the story was somewhat lacking to me. I want this to be awesomer!

  4. BermudaOnion says:

    This was my first experience with Selznick and I loved it! I need to go back and read his first book!

  5. Frances says:

    Can’t wait to get to this one. Simply brilliant author/illustrator. Can’t tell you how many times I have read and shared Hugo Cabret. Just hoping the movie does not prove a disappointment.

  6. Wow, a five out of five! I will definitely have to read this at some point!

  7. Oh my goodness. Had to duck away from your review for a moment to visit the library website to place a hold on this book. It sounds amazing! Thanks for the great review.

  8. I ordered this one for my Middle school library and I think I’ll bring it home over Thanksgiving break. I love this author and his gorgeous drawings!!!!

  9. Margot says:

    I like the idea of presenting the two stories in two different ways. My children and I love Sendak’s drawings. We would stare at them for long periods of time. I’ll definitely find this one.

  10. What better place for children to hide out or meet than in a museum? Sound like a very good book.

  11. Stephanie says:

    This book is the whole package! I featured it in Shelf Candy last week. I can’t wait for the Hugo movie to release.

  12. Jenners says:

    With influences like that, how can you go wrong? Why I haven’t read either of these books is beyond me.

  13. Alyce says:

    I finally convinced my fifth grade son to read this and he loved it just as much as I thought he would. It’s funny because he’s hit that stage where he thinks that if I like it then it couldn’t possibly be any good, and then he’s always shocked when my suggestions fit his tastes. 🙂

  14. stacybuckeye says:

    Wow! What an endorsement. I really think I need to get this one for our home. First for me then for Gage 🙂

  15. Rachel says:

    Sounds wonderful! What age level do you think it’s appropriate for? I’m wondering if my seven year old would like it.

  16. Thats it – I need to go to the book store and pick this up… I must!

  17. Stefanie says:

    Nicely reviewed! I haven’t read the Konigburg and I didn’t think about the connection between Sendak and Selznick in spite of the dedication.

  18. Ti says:

    I took a peek at this one when I got 1Q84 and it was pretty cool to look at.

  19. Serena says:

    Wow….I love the illustrations you shared!

  20. Julie P. says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. This book was spectacular. Now I just need to go back and read HUGO.

  21. Those illustrations are fantastic! I think this would be a great Xmas gift for The Girl! Off to jot down the title…

  22. Trish says:

    Seems like this one is everywhere lately! I still haven’t read Hugo Cabret but after seeing the movie previews I’m really interested. Love these illustrations–just gorgeous!

  23. 5/5 stars … what else is there to add?! Wonderful book!

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