Wonderstruck by Brian Zelnick

With summer vacation starting soon, "Wonderstruck" by Brian Zelnick might be just the book to keep your children reading, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Submitted photo

This review of “Wonderstruck” is dedicated to young readers, and to adults who love to put wonderful books into the hands of children. With summer vacation starting soon, this might be just the book to keep your children reading, not because they have to, but because they want to. I can almost guarantee you they won’t be disappointed, nor will you if you read “Wonderstruck” along with your child. It’s for any reader who wants to be transported to a magical time and place.

As way of background, you have by now probably heard of the movie “Hugo,” directed by Martin Scorsese, which captured five Academy Awards this year. The movie was based on the book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick. Because “Hugo” has already received so much publicity, I choose instead to review Selznick’s second book, “Wonderstruck” (2011). Although at first glance it appears pricey, in hardcover at $20-plus, I think it is worthy with 637 pages (more than 450 illustrations) and weighing in at 2.8 pounds (really). And how can one put a price tag on creating a love for reading or witnessing a child’s eagerness to turn the page to see what happens next?

What happens next is told not only in words but in beautiful and detailed pencil illustrations done by the author himself, who has illustrated many books, including “Caldecott Honor” books. More than half the story in “Wonderstruck” is told through these sketches from the point of view of the character Rose, a child in 1927 in New York. The alternating story is Ben’s, told in words. His childhood is from the year 1977 and begins in Minnesota. Finding a mysterious bookmark with an inscription to his deceased mother sends Ben on a search for the father he never knew. How Ben and Rose connect, 50 years apart, make for a fascinating adventure.

What Rose and Ben have in common is the wish that their lives were different. They are both searching for a parent and as the author says, “they are two kids trying to find the place where they belong in the world.” And aren’t we all? It is this universal theme that make this book not only a delight for children but any adult who appreciates a timeless story.

Tim Wadham, a reviewer for School Library Journal, discusses the dual text/illustration format that Selznick uses and says “the combination provides an emotional experience that neither the words nor the illustrations could achieve on their own.”

Children, parents and teachers might enjoy visiting the website, www.wonderstruckthebook.com. It contains a video interview with Selznick, who tells us about his research process, which is a great incentive for children to do the same: “This book was a joy, a challenge, and a puzzle to put together. I hope you enjoy meeting Ben and Rose, and joining them on their thrilling, dangerous and unexpected adventures in New York City.”

Other resources on the website include 12 essays about Wonderstruck, including one from E. Konigsburg who wrote “From the Crazy Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” the 1968 Newberry Award winner. Chances are you or your children have enjoyed this museum adventure story.

In his acknowledgements, Selznick says he owes a great debt of gratitude to Konigsburg. To pay that debt he fills “Wonderstruck” with references to her book. Like the “Crazy Mixed up Files,” a New York museum is also critical to his story. If your child has read the “Crazy Files” it might be fun to see how many of these references they can spot — a little treasure hunt to add to the enjoyment of this book.

On May 7, The Children’s Choice Book Awards awarded Brian Zelznick “Illustrator of the Year” for “Wonderstruck.”

I would not be surprised if, like “Hugo,” “Wonderstruck” will be coming to a theater near you someday. In the meantime, you might want to capture this special wonder in a book this summer.

• Former bookstore owner Vy Armour has been a resident of Ahwatukee Foothills for more than 20 years. She is an adjunct instructor in communications at the University of Phoenix and reviews books on her blog, http://serendipity-reflections.blogspot.com. Reach her at vyarmour@gmail.com.

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