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The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an American historical fiction novel written and illustrated by Brian Selznick and published by Scholastic. The hardcover edition was released on January 30, 2007, and the paperback edition was released on June 2, 2008. With 284 pictures between the book's 533 pages, the book depends as much on its pictures as it does on the words. Selznick himself has described the book as "not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things".[1] The book won the 2008 Caldecott Medal,[2] the first novel to do so, as the Caldecott Medal is for picture books.[3]

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret.jpg
AuthorBrian Selznick
Cover artistBrian Selznick
CountryUnited States
GenreHistorical Fiction
PublishedJanuary 30, 2007 (Scholastic Press)
Media typeHardcover
AwardsCaldecott Medal (2008)
LC ClassPZ7.S4654 Inv 2007

The book's primary inspiration is the true story of turn-of-the-century French pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès, his surviving films, and his collection of mechanical, wind-up figures called Automata. Selznick decided to add an Automaton to the storyline after reading Edison's Eve by Gaby Wood, which tells the story of Edison's attempt to create a talking wind-up doll. Méliès owned a set of automata, which were sold to a museum but lay forgotten in an attic for decades. Eventually, when someone re-discovered them, they had been ruined by rainwater. At the end of his life, Méliès was destitute, even as his films were screening widely in the United States. He sold toys from a booth in a Paris railway station, which provides the setting of the story. Selznick drew Méliès's real door in the book, as well as real columns and other details from the Montparnasse railway station in Paris.



Before Story EventsEdit

In 1930s Paris, young Hugo Cabret and his father find a non-functioning automaton at the museum where the father works. They decide to fix it. One night, a fire at the museum kills Hugo's father. Hugo is orphaned.

Hugo's uncle takes him to the train station to live and teaches him how to fix the clocks. The uncle disappears, and Hugo keeps the clocks running. Hugo returns to the burnt museum and takes the automaton to the station in hopes that he can fix it.

Part 1Edit

A couple months later, Hugo is caught by the shopkeeper and has to give in his tools and stolen tool parts and gears, as well as his notebook, which contained drawings of the automaton made by his father while trying to fix it. Hugo then follows the man to his house but doesn't get his notebook back. A girl who lived in the house named Isabelle comes down and assures him that she will make sure that the shopkeeper won't destroy the notebook.

The next day, Hugo returns to the toy booth where the shopkeeper tricks him into thinking that the notebook was burnt by giving him some ashes. When he encounters Isabelle again, she states that he didn't. Isabelle brings him to the bookshop, where they meet Etienne, a friend of Isabelle. He offers to sneak both of them into the movie theatre, since the shopkeeper and his wife, for so far unknown reasons don't allow Isabelle to watch the cinema. Hugo reluctantly agrees since that meant delaying his working on the clocks.

Meanwhile, the shopkeeper decides to make Hugo work at the toy booth, saying that he just might give the notebook back if he did so. Hugo agrees, despite delaying his other duties even further. Hugo and Isabelle go to the movies like Hugo promised, but they find out that Etienne was fired from working there since the boss found out that he has been sneaking children inside, so Isabelle unlocks the door using a bobby pin. After they are kicked out of the theatre, Hugo is almost caught by the station inspector, noticing the clock delays. Isabelle then asks Hugo who he was and where he lived, which Hugo decides not to tell, in risk that she would tell someone and he would be sent to the orphanage or be arrested. He runs away from her, and while chasing him she trips and a heart-shaped key hanging from her necklace falls out. Hugo notices that he only needed the key to fit into the key-hole of the automaton to have it write its message, and comes up with a plan the next morning.

When he arrives at the toy booth the next morning, Hugo discovers that Isabelle had looked into his notebook after finding it, despite promising not to, and that Papa George thought that he stole it. Hugo quickly hugs Isabelle, stealing the key on her necklace too, a technique that he learned from Etienne. Hugo returns to his room in the station walls, and a furious Isabelle tackles him. After she calms down, they place the key inside the automaton, and instead of writing a message, it draws a drawing of a rocket shooting a face in the moon.

Part 2Edit

After drawing the picture, the automaton signed the name Georges Méliès at the bottom right-hand corner of the page. Isabelle notes that that was the name of Papa Georges, and gets angry again when she is convinced that Hugo stole the automaton from him. She runs to her house, wanting to ask Georges about it. Hugo follows her to her house, also wanting to know what was going on. She attempts to force him away, in the process having his hand crushed and broken when she closes the door on his hand. She suddenly notices what she has done, and lets him in. Mama Jean comes over, and they explain the situation. She is enraged when Isabelle reveals that she actually stole the key from her. While she walks away to get a bandage and more ice for Hugo, Hugo notices a drawer that seemed strangely locked. Isabelle unlocks it with her bobby pin, but accidentally drops box inside of it on her leg and breaks it, breaking her bone in the process. Georges comes and upon seeing the drawings inside of the box, becomes mentally ill and begins ripping them into pieces. But Mama Jean stops him and tells that this is his work, and Georges yells at his wife that this isn't his work that he's not an artist he is nothing but a penniless merchant, a prisoner, a shell, and a broken windup toy. So Mama Jeanne comes over and forces her husband to go to sleep, as well as Isabelle, and tells Hugo to do the same, at their house. Instead, when everyone is asleep, he steals the key to the toy booth and returns to the train station.

The next day, he opens the toy booth with the key and he and Isabelle collect the money they got from the toy-selling, and use it to buy medicine for George. Later on, Hugo goes to the film academy library, and encounters Etienne, who now works there. Etienne offers to help Hugo, and he accepts it. Hugo finds a book called The Invention of Dreams, with the drawing of the automaton, which was a scene from the first movie his father watched, A Trip to the Moon. It says that the movie was directed by Georges Melies. Hugo reveals this to Etienne, and invites him and the author of the book, The Invention of Dreams, René Tabard, to Isabelle's house. Later on in the day, Hugo invites Isabelle to his room again, where he explains everything that was going on.

When René Tabard and Etienne arrive at the house, they are quickly asked to be sent out by Mama Jean, but allows them to stay for a bit longer when they offer to show the movie, A Trip to the Moon. Georges Méliès walks in, and takes the film with him into his room and locks the door, which Isabelle opens with her bobbypin. Georges reveals all his secrets, saying that he was sent into depression after the war and after Isabelle's parents' death, mostly because his films burned down during the war, and so he burned down most of the remains of his films and worked in a toy booth. He also reveals that he created the automaton, and that he sold it to the museum. When they tell him that it was still functional, he gets excited and asks Hugo to get it. Hugo does so, but along the way stopping while stealing milk and croissants from Monsieur Frick and Miss Emily. He overhears the two discussing how the police found out that Hugo's uncle was found dead in the ocean, and they believed that it was the ghost of the clock-keeper keeping them going, but now they were breaking down since the ghost was angry. Hugo drops the milk bottle upon hearing that, and the two find out that it was him that was stealing their milk and croissant this entire time. They run after him, but he escapes to his room to fetch the automaton. The station inspector kicks open his door and has a long chase with Hugo, concluding with him accidentally running onto the train-tracks and almost getting struck by a train before getting quickly pulled back from the station inspector.

After waking from his coma, Hugo is in the cell that the station inspector keeps fugitives. He reveals everything to the inspector, and Georges Méliès, Isabelle and Mama Jean adopt him. He and Melies fix the automaton again, since he dropped it while running from the inspector

Epilogue: 6 months laterEdit

6 months later, Hugo and his new family go to a concert where it will show Georges Melies movie scenes that still survived during World War I. Rene Tabard on stage acknowledges Hugo Cabret, Isabelle and Ettienne. In the end, it is revealed that Hugo made his own automaton that wrote and drew the entire book of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Main charactersEdit

Hugo CabretEdit

The main protagonist of the story, Hugo Cabret has a great talent for working with mechanical stuff, especially clockworks. It is mentioned in the book that he could fix almost everything. After moving to the train station after his father died, he became used to stealing food and drinks and other stuff from people to survive in the walls train station, even if reluctantly. He is a smarty pants, a thief and determined, but can also be a little rude due to not having any friends for 2 years of living in the station, until meeting Isabelle. He is described to have dirty and tousled hair. It is also believed that his hair is black due to showing that in the drawings in the book, but that could also be yellow, since the drawings are illustrated in black and white. He cares deeply about his friend and family, especially his father, who has died.


The second main character in the book. After her parents died in a car crash, her godfather Georges Méliès and godmother Jean adopted her. Due to the risk of Isabelle knowing that he was a moviemaker until he was sent into depression and began working at the toy booth, Melies banished her from permission of going to the cinema. She still is able to watch the cinema since her friend Ettienne often helps sneak her in, but still is unable to find out about who her uncle actually is, and still doesn't until meeting Hugo. She is described to have large black eyes, and to be slightly taller than Hugo.

Georges MélièsEdit

Georges's parents worked on making shoes and encouraged him to do the same, yet he disliked it. When he grew into a young man and the movies were invented, he asked the Lumiere brothers, one of the first directors, to sell him a camera, they refused so Melies made his own camera out of his remaining materials from his parent's shoe company. His most famous work, A Trip to the Moon, was the first sci-fi movie ever made. He was also the director who first began using special effects in movies. Selznick made his personality to be often cold and haughty. In the drawings it is shown that by this point in the book he is in his senior years, and at the beginning of the book he is called 'the old man'.

Hugo's fatherEdit

Hugo's father worked at a museum in Paris when he found the automaton. When there was a fire in the museum, his son was still able to continue his work of fixing it with his cardboard notebook. There is no mention of a mother at all, and since Hugo left with his uncle to the station, it is assumed that his mother may have died.

Georges Méliès' automatonEdit

Maillardet's automaton at the Franklin Institute

One of Selznick's inspirations to incorporate an automaton into the story was the book titled Edison’s Eve: A Magical Quest for Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood which has a chapter on Georges Méliès' collection of automata. His automata were kept in a museum in Paris but were later thrown away.[4] Selznick's original idea was to have Hugo find an automaton in a pile of garbage and fix it. At that time, Selznick began his research on automata and the curator at the Franklin Institute allowed him to study their automaton.[5] The history of the automaton at the Institute also had a mysterious origin which was similar to what Selznick had in mind. The automaton was donated to the Institute suffered a major damage from a fire. It was believed at the time of donation that it was made by a French inventor named Maelzel. However, after a staff fixed it and got it to work, the automaton wrote at the end of a poem in French as "Ecrit par L'Automate de Maillardet", translating to "Written by the automaton of Maillardet", revealing its true maker as Henri Maillardet.[6] After many different ideas, Selznick settled with the story that Hugo's father had a connection with the automaton and died before the automaton was found in a burned up building. The automaton illustrated in the book has many elements that resembles the automaton at the Institute.[7][5]

Secondary charactersEdit

Uncle ClaudeEdit

Hugo's uncle, who adopted and brought him to work on the clocks at the train station. He is also the reason that Hugo stopped attending school, but Hugo began school again after Georges Melies adopted him. Claude made Hugo sleep on the floor and yelled at him angrily when he made a mistake with the clocks. He smoked a lot and was an alcoholic, and died when he tripped into and drowned in a river. He was the clock timekeeper at the Paris train station, a task overtaken by Hugo after Claude's death.


Isabelle's friend, who often sneaks her into the cinema due to her godparent's refusal. When he gave Hugo a coin to buy the book that he used for stealing Isabelle's key, he asks Hugo to guess what was behind his eye patch. Hugo guesses an eye, but Ettienne reveals that he lost his eye as a child when he was playing with fireworks. Hugo gives up on guessing, and so Ettienne takes a coin from behind the eyepatch and gives him it to buy the book. The drawings in the book depicts a young man with smooth hair, a genuine smile and an eyepatch. He is polite, especially with children, but can also be mischievous, as shown when he is caught sneaking children into the cinema and when he was playing with fireworks. Used to work at the cinema, but then got fired and worked at the film academy library.

René TabardEdit

The author of The Invention of Dreams and Etienne's master at the film academy. Like most characters in the book, he enjoys the movies. A huge, probably the biggest, fan of director Georges Melies and was hired as assistant director and editor of his movies.

Jeanne MélièsEdit

Known to Isabelle as Mama Jean, the wife of Georges Méliès was trusted by him to keep the heart-shaped key that began the automaton - until it got stolen by her goddaughter Isabelle. She, in her defense, said that she just thought it was pretty. Like Georges, she is in her elder years.

Madame EmileEdit

A character who only appears twice in the book, the first time being when she found out that Hugo was stealing her and Monsieur Frick's croissant, and the second time being when she was there when Hugo was in the fugitive cell, and believed that he was telling the truth to the station inspector.

Station inspectorEdit

Hugo has been avoiding this character ever since his uncle Claude disappeared. The first sign that the station inspector noticed of irregularity was when the clocks began to be too early and too late, even if just by seconds. That was because Hugo decided to work for Georges and since his right hand's fingers were crushed. The second was when he sent a letter to Claude, asking for an interview with him, but there was no response. Finally, he decided to go see what was going on, only to have a long chase with Hugo Cabret. He is described to wear a green uniform and smell of vegetables.

Film adaptationEdit

Martin Scorsese bought the screen rights to the book in 2007, and John Logan wrote the script. Scorsese began shooting the film in London at Shepperton Studios in June 2010. It was produced in 3D, with its theatrical release on November 23, 2011, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. Asa Butterfield played the lead role of Hugo, with Ben Kingsley as Papa Georges (Méliès), Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelle and Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector. Jude Law, Richard Griffiths, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Frances de la Tour and Helen McCrory were also featured.[8] The film was released to universal critical acclaim, scoring a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 83 on Metacritic. In 2012, the film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and ended up winning 5 (for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects).


  1. ^ Amazon, ASIN 0439813786CS1 maint: ASIN uses ISBN (link).
  2. ^ Caldecott Medal Winners, 1938 – Present, American Library Association, retrieved May 27, 2009.
  3. ^ "Caldecott Medal Winners, 1938 – Present". American Library Association. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
  4. ^ Henneman, Heidi (March 2007). "Brian Selznick: Every picture tells a story in Selznick's "Invention"". BookPage. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Brian Selznick Interview: Selznick on the Authenticity of Hugo's Automaton in The Invention of Hugo Cabret". Scholastic. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  6. ^ "Maillardet's Automaton". The Franklin Institute. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  7. ^ Williams-Garcia, Rita. "2007 National Book Award Young People's Literature Finalist Interview With Brian Selznick". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  8. ^ "Martin Scorsese's Hugo Cabret Starts Filming Today". Movieweb. Retrieved June 29, 2010.

External linksEdit