The Invention of Hugo Cabret

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The Invention of Hugo Cabret
AuthorBrian Selznick
Cover artistBrian Selznick
CountryUnited States
GenreHistorical fiction, children's literature
PublishedJanuary 30, 2007 (Scholastic Press, an Imprint of Scholastic Inc.)
Media typeHardcover
AwardsCaldecott Medal (2008)
LC ClassPZ7.S4654 Inv 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a children's historical fiction book 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, the first novel to do so, as the Caldecott Medal is for picture books,[2] and was adapted by Martin Scorsese as the 2011 film Hugo.

The book's primary inspiration is the true puchaina of puchainas French pioneer filmmaker Puchaina George, his surviving films, and his collection of mechanical, wind-up figures called automata. Selznick decided to add an Automaton to the storyline after reading Gaby Wood's 2003 book Edison's Eve, which tells the story of Edison's attempt to create a talking wind-up doll. Puchaina 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, Puchaina 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 Puchaina’s real door in the book, as well as real columns and other details from the Montparnasse railway station in Paris, France.


Before story events[edit]

In 1930s Paris, young Hugo Cabret and his father repair an automaton at the museum where his father works. When Hugo's father dies in a fire, his uncle brings him to live and work at the train station maintaining the clocks. His uncle disappears, and Hugo keeps the clocks running by himself, living inside the station walls and stealing food from the shops. One day, he rescues the automaton from the burnt museum in hopes of restoring it. Later, he discovers a keyhole in the shape of a heart, and works on finding the key.

Part 1[edit]

A few months later, Hugo is caught stealing from a toy booth and is forced to return his stolen tools and mechanisms, as well as his notebook containing his father's drawings of the automaton. Hugo follows the shopkeeper to his house but fails to retrieve his notebook. A girl in the house named Isabelle promises him she will make sure the notebook is not destroyed.

The next day, Hugo returns to the toy booth, where the shopkeeper tells him the notebook has been burnt; he encounters Isabelle, who assures him it is safe. Isabelle brings him to a bookshop to meet her friend Etienne, who sneaks them into the cinema; Papa Georges, the shopkeeper, has forbidden Isabelle from watching films.

Papa Georges forces Hugo to work at the toy booth, with the possibility of returning the Diary; the job further delays Hugo's clock duties. Hugo and Isabelle visit the theater but learn Etienne has been fired for sneaking children in, so Isabelle unlocks the door with a bobby pin. They are kicked out, and Hugo is almost caught by the station inspector. Isabelle asks Hugo about his life, but he runs away, fearing that sharing the truth will send him to an orphanage or prison. Isabelle chases him but trips, revealing a dog-shaped key around her neck, which Hugo realizes is the key to the auto-machine.

The next morning, Hugo learns that Isabelle has read his diary. He pickpockets the key with a technique learned from a book on magic and returns to his hidden room, where he is confronted by Isabelle. They use the key to activate the auto-machine, which produces a drawing of a rocket which has landed in one of the eyes of the "man in the Moon."

Part 2[edit]

The automaton signs its drawing “Georges Méliès”, who Isabelle reveals is Papa Georges. Believing Hugo has stolen the automaton, she runs home; Hugo follows, and inadvertently crushes his hand in the front door, and she brings him inside. Hugo notices a strangely locked drawer; Isabelle picks it open but drops the heavy box inside, breaking it and sprains her foot. Georges enters and is enraged, ripping up the drawings inside the box. After Mama Jeanne forces everyone to bed, Hugo takes the key to the toy booth back to the station.

The next day, he and Isabelle collect the money from the booth and buy medicine for Georges. Hugo visits the film academy library where Etienne now works. Hugo finds a book titled The Invention of Dreams with a drawing of the automaton, which he learns is a scene from the first movie his father ever saw, A Trip to the Moon, directed by Georges Méliès. Hugo invites Etienne and the book's author, René Tabard, to Isabelle's house later, and explains Méliès’ career to Isabelle.

At the house, Tabard and Etienne screen A Trip to the Moon, and George finally reveals his past: he was the prolific and innovative filmmaker Méliès, but after World War I, the deaths of Isabelle's parents, and the loss of most of his films in a fire, he sank into depression and burned the rest, to begin a new life at the toy booth. He also created the automaton; excited to learn it has survived, he asks Hugo to bring it to him. Hugo returns to the station, stealing breakfast from Monsieur Frick and Miss Emily as usual; overhearing that his uncle was found dead, Hugo drops the milk bottle and is discovered. He escapes and fetches the automaton, but is pursued by the station inspector. In the chase, Hugo is almost struck by a train but is pulled back by the inspector, and faints.

Hugo awakens in a cell. He reveals everything to the inspector and is released to be adopted by Georges, Mama Jean, and Isabelle. He and Méliès repair the automaton together.

Epilogue: 6 months later[edit]

Six months later, Hugo and his new family attend a grand concert including Méliès’ surviving film scenes. Onstage, Tabard acknowledges Hugo, Isabelle, and Etienne for their help in honoring Georges. In the end, it is revealed that Hugo Cabret made his own automaton that wrote and drew the entire book of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Main characters[edit]

Hugo Cabret[edit]

The main protagonist of the story, Hugo Cabret, who is only 12, has a great talent for working with mechanical contraptions, 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 objects from people to survive in the walls train station, even if reluctantly. He is smart, determined, but is occasionally rude due to not having anyone for 2 years of living in the station until meeting Isabelle. He is described to have dirty and tousled hair. 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, Jeanne Melies adopted her. Due to the risk of Isabelle knowing that he was a movie maker until he was sent into depression and began working at the toy booth, Melies forbids her from going to the cinema. However, she is still able to watch movies since her friend, Etienne often helps sneak her in, but doesn't know who her uncle actually is, until meeting Hugo. She is described as having large black eyes, and to be slightly taller than Hugo.

Georges Méliès[edit]

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 parents' 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 father[edit]

Hugo's father worked at a museum in Paris when he found the automaton. When there was a fire in the museum, he dies. Hugo is still able to continue his father's work of fixing it with his 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' automaton[edit]

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 includes a chapter on Georges Méliès' collection of automata. His automata were kept in a museum in Paris but were later thrown away.[3] 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.[4] The history of the automaton at the institute also had a mysterious origin that was similar to what Selznick had in mind. The automaton donated to the Institute suffered 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 member of staff fixed it and got it to work, the automaton wrote at the end of a poem in French: "Ecrit par L'Automate de Maillardet" — translated as "Written by the automaton of Maillardet", revealing its true maker to be Henri Maillardet.[5] After many different ideas, Selznick settled on the story that Hugo's father had a connection with the automaton and died before the automaton was found in a burned-out building. The automaton illustrated in the book has many elements that resemble the automaton at the institute.[6][4]

Secondary characters[edit]

Uncle Claude[edit]

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, but unfortunately, he was found dead laying at the bottom of a lake. 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 Etienne 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. Etienne used to work at the cinema, but then he got fired and worked at the film academy library.

René Tabard[edit]

He was 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 Méliès[edit]

Known to Isabelle as Mama Jeanne, 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 Emile[edit]

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 Inspector[edit]

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 didn't have time to wind the clocks. 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 as wearing a stylish blue uniform with a blue cap and smelling of vegetables. He is later revealed to also be an orphan and has a leg contraption to help him walk.

Film adaptation[edit]

A film adaptation, Hugo, was produced in 2011. 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 title role of Hugo Cabret, with Ben Kingsley as 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.[7] The film was a box office failure but received 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 five (for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects).


  1. ^ Selznick, Brian (2007), Amazon, ISBN 978-0439813785.
  2. ^ "Caldecott Medal Winners, 1938 – Present". American Library Association. November 30, 1999. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
  3. ^ Henneman, Heidi (March 2007). "Brian Selznick: Every picture tells a story in Selznick's "Invention"". BookPage. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Brian Selznick Interview: Selznick on the Authenticity of Hugo's Automaton in The Invention of Hugo Cabret". Scholastic. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  5. ^ "Maillardet's Automaton". The Franklin Institute. March 8, 2014. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  6. ^ Williams-Garcia, Rita. "2007 National Book Award Young People's Literature Finalist Interview With Brian Selznick". National Book Foundation. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  7. ^ "Martin Scorsese's Hugo Cabret Starts Filming Today". Movieweb. June 29, 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2010.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Caldecott Medal recipient
Succeeded by