The Invention of Hugo Cabret


Brian Selznick

Number of Pages: 


Minimum grade level: 


Tick, tock, tick, tock, someone has to keep all the clocks in the turn-of-the century Paris train station running. Little do passengers rushing through the station know that that duty falls on twelve-year old orphaned Hugo, who lives illegally in the walls of the old building. Hugo’s father died recently, leaving behind a cryptic notebook of drawings and an automaton, a mechanical human, who’s frozen stiff with a pen in his hand, as if he were about to write a message. Hugo is obsessed with getting the machine to work, so he can learn what that message was. His search for an answer leads him to an old toy maker, who he thinks might have the tools he needs to fix the machine. Just like an old silent movie, this book is told in words and pictures. And the pictures are as important to read as the words. Here’s Hugo spying on the toymaker from behind a clock (show 3 picture spreads that precede page 46). Can you see his eye peeking out?

When Hugo meets a bookish girl, Isabelle, he finds she has a mysterious key around her neck that looks like it might make the automaton run! Hugo’s search takes him into the world of early silent films, when he stumbles on hidden sketches and plans from movies he’s seen, like Trip to the Moon, by the famous film maker George Méliès. (show in book sketches following page 283). But right when he’s about to figure out the mystery of the mechanical man, a chase breaks out – the station manager’s on to him – can Hugo escape? (show several pages of the chase scene that follow page 415). Read - and watch – to find out.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. This is a book about the early days of silent movies. Can you think of some ways this book itself works like a silent movie?
  2. When Hugo goes to the library he sees a mural painting of Prometheus. Later Papa George admits he was the one who painted it. Read the story of Prometheus from a book of Greek myths or a website on Greek myths. Then look at what Papa George says on page 494. Why do you think Prometheus is used as a symbol for Papa George?
  3. Compare this book to graphic novels, comic books, or manga that you like to read. How are they alike and how are they different? Talk about what parts of a story work best, in text vs. pictures.
  4. Watch George Melies’ film A Trip to the Moon (search it by title on YouTube). What are some of the creative things they use instead of CGI, color, and sound to tell you the story? Can you explain how they created their special effects?

If you liked this book, try

  • Regarding the Bathrooms; a Privy to the Past by Kate Klise
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid; a Novel in Cartoons by Jeff Kinney
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.