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Innovative Storyteller Releases Latest Wonder


Author and illustrator Brian Selznick 88 IL continues to push the boundaries of hybrid storytelling.

The minute his extraordinary kids’ novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret hit bookstores in 2007, Brian Selznick 88 IL was on his way to winning the hearts and minds of young readers around the world. The 530-page book unfolds like a silent movie, with entire chapters told in mesmerizing pencil drawings. With its cinematic feel and magical take on historical fiction, Hugo Cabret set the literary world on fire, winning the 2008 Caldecott Medal. In November a feature film adaptation directed by Martin Scorsese – with award-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson 79 FAV behind the camera – is due to hit the big screen.

Now, in a new book out this month, Selznick is pushing the boundaries of his hybrid storytelling style even further. The book is called Wonderstruck, and in it he creates one work of fiction by weaving together two completely separate narratives – one told entirely in pictures, the other told entirely in words.

“I wanted to take what I had learned from Hugo and make something new with it; I wanted to do something better,” says Selznick, who spent three years bringing Wonderstruck’s parallel stories to life. At 639 pages, it’s another massive work, moving between two 12-year-old runaways who are both deaf – one a girl in 1927 who goes in search of a famous movie actress, the other a boy in 1977, looking for the father he’s never met. Separated by 50 years, the protagonists’ journeys converge at one of the most magical real-life destinations for children: the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

Just weeks after its release, the book is generating a level of buzz that’s rare for a children’s book. The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Atlantic, Huffington Post and NPR, among others, are all applauding Selznick’s latest effort. The Washington Post called Wonderstruck “superb,” saying that “Brian Selznick proves to be that rare creator capable of following one masterpiece . . . with another even more brilliantly executed.” Publishers Weekly, which gave the book a starred review, said Wonderstruck “should cement [Selznick’s] reputation as one of the most innovative storytellers at work today.”

The inspirations for Wonderstruck were wide-ranging, from E.L. Konigsburg’s 1967 classic From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which chronicles two siblings who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to Hiroshima Maiden, a complex, split-narrative puppet show by acclaimed puppeteer Dan Hurlin, a friend of Selznick’s. But the biggest influence by far was Through Deaf Eyes, a PBS television documentary on deafness and the evolution of deaf culture that he happened to see while still working on Hugo Cabret.

“One of the things that struck me so much was the profound impact that sound in the movies had for deaf people,” Selznick says. “Before, they could be part of popular culture, but once sound was introduced, it was a huge blow to that community. They were completely shut out.” The pictures-only story of Selznick’s young female protagonist, Rose, takes place in 1927, the year Hollywood released the first commercial feature-length motion picture, The Jazz Singer.

“With Wonderstruck,” says Selznick, “we experience Rose’s story in a way that reflects the way she experiences life.” At the same time, he says, the journeys of Rose and the novel’s other protagonist, reflects the search for acceptance that defines coming-of-age for the deaf. “It’s something that fascinates me and rings true in so many ways, whether you’re growing up as an artist or a gay person or whatever,” says Selznick. “That idea of searching for a culture or a community outside your biological one seemed like a really resonant idea.”

related links:
Martin Scorsese’s Magical ‘Hugo’ (New York Times)
NPR interview with Brian Selznick 

tags: alumni, entertainment, innovation, Illustration

RISD has a long history of offering Saturday and after-school classes for children and teens, as this photo from c. 1910 confirms.