Friday, April 30, 2010

Book review: Cricket and Hugo

Since almost all I read these days are kids' books. I thought I should start leaving reviews...

About two years ago, I read "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" which won the Caldicot Medal for outstanding picture book. At the time, it was like no other picture book anyone had seen, and the award drew a lot of criticism. The book starts out with page after page of pencil drawings. You see a kid running, then ducking behind a grate in the wall, then peering out from behind a clock, etc. Page after page after page of drawings. The book isn't a slim little pre-school reader. When there is text, it's more at the 4th grade level or higher. It's meant for older kids.

The book has two parts. The first tells you of Hugo and his struggle to survive essentially on the streets. His uncle, who maintained the clocks at the Paris train station has disappeared or died, and Hugo is left with no one to take care of him. So, he takes over his uncle's job and paycheck. He figures that as long as the clocks continue to run properly, he'll be able to continue on. Obviously, he has struggles and problems. By the end of the first part, he is in a more-secure position.

That is as far as our then-third grade girl got in the book. Which is too bad, because the second half is great. Hugo discovers a mechanical man and begins to repair it (I think that actually happens in the first part of the book). The thing is made with extraordinary complexity. Wind it up, and it can draw a complete and complex picture on a piece of paper. This leads to other discoveries, and in the end Hugo himself becomes a master of making similar automatons.

The book is exciting and interesting. I highly recommend it.

Right after I read "Hugo", I read the old classic "The Cricket in Times Square". I found the two books were perfect companions. Both have an adventurous boy who move about their cities, both take place in train stations, and both have a sense of wonder and magic.

Not only do I recommend both, but I recommend they be read together.

In fact, they would be great books to pair up in a book club. The club could discuss the differences and similarities between the two and the similar thematic threads.

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