The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: Book Cover

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Author: Brian Selznick

Page Length: 525

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Hugo Cabret is a 12 year old orphan who is an accomplished thief and one who is skilled at fixing clocks and other machines. Hugo lives and “works” in a train station during the 1930’s in Paris, France. Before this, a museum fire killed Hugo’s father and Hugo’s subsequent guardian deserts him. As a result, Hugo becomes a recluse and manages to lead a quiet life. However, the discovery of an automated machine and a notebook fascinate Hugo as they may provide clues about his father.

This fascination leads Hugo into a world of trouble as he must open up about his secret life and risk being taken into custody by officials. Little does Hugo know that much of what he has been hiding will provide insight into not only his life but the past life of a local toy maker.

REVIEW: This was a very creative story to read. Half of the book’s tale is told using black and white illustrations. The pictures do not just accompany the text, they actually add detail to the written story.

Upon encountering each picture, readers are encouraged to spend time with each illustration. The author goes beyond just a tale of an orphan trying to find out the secrets behind an old machine, by delving into the topic of the early silent picture/movie industry.

The author, after much research, has taken the known facts about the real-life filmmaker of Georges Melies (as represented in the character of the toy maker) and imagined his personality.

The art of early cinema and the adventure of secret discoveries come together in this great book that will appeal to many readers. It is a nice blend of graphic novel, art work, and film slides.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, setting, historical influence

RELATED BOOKS: Before Hollywood: From Shadow Play to the Silver Screen by Paul Clee

ART CONNECTIONS: There are 284 pages of original drawings by the author, Brian Selznick, in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

The book also contains drawings/sketches by Georges Melies (pages 284-297) as well as other works by Brian Selznick that were inspired by the works of Georges Melies.

For a complete listing of all film still and illustration credits, refer to page 531 of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: For a complete listing of films mentioned in the book as well as films that were influential in the creation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, refer to page 532 of the book.

Sources report that a film studio is looking into adapting the book into a movie for a 2011 release.

RELATED WEBSITES: (official website for the book) (type “Melies” into the search engine for links to Georges Meiles’ life story) (lessons and activities that relate to the book)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

November 26, 2010

Chasing Vermeer

Filed under: C — thebookreviews @ 9:05 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett: Book Cover

Chasing Vermeer

Author: Blue Balliett

Page Length: 254

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Calder and Petra have one thing in common. They have the greatest sixth grade teacher ever – Ms. Hussey. After Ms. Hussey gives her class the challenging assignment of proving that written letters are not dead by finding someone whose life has been altered by a letter, Calder and Petra decide to work together. What starts as a simple assignment soon morphs into something more. A great mystery is afoot. A painting has been stolen, and Calder and Petra are hot on the trail of a thief.

REVIEW: This was an interesting and mysterious story. The clues are revealed to the reader as the story evolves. Readers learn a great deal about the famous artist Jan Vermeer and the uses of pentominoes. Readers reflect about what makes great artwork, and they learn about actions taken toward a cause. The book provides great discussion material of the causes and effects of each character’s action or inaction. This is a story that is very interesting and engaging.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, character traits, cause and effect, context clues, foreshadowing, great book to pair with pentominoes from math class


RELATED BOOKS:  The Calder Game, The Wright 3

RELATED MOVIES: Chasing Vermeer (due out in 2011)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 12, 2008


Filed under: R — thebookreviews @ 5:13 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Author: Willo Davis Roberts       

Page Length: 153

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Amanda Jane Keeling has the nickname Rebel because at an early age she was defiant in all that her parent’s tried to teach her.  Rebel is the only girl in her family and she has three musically talented brothers. As her family prepares for a trip to Europe where the boys will participate in music competition, Rebel’s Gram, decides to buy a boarding house in the University area.  She asked if any of the children would be able to help with house renovations.  Rebel thinks this would be a good opportunity to miss another competition, and plans to stay with Gram and help for two weeks, then join her family for the road trip through Europe.

Gram is going into her housing venture with another older woman, Old Vi, as referred to by her grandson, Moses.  Both ladies have pet dogs. Gram’s is Pookie and Old Vi’s is Tiger.

Upon meeting Moses, Rebel is pleasantly surprised.  At the age of 14 she is 5’ 10” and towers above all the boys she has ever known.  Moses is 15 and is 6’ 6’’.  While Rebel has overcome some of her rebellious ways, she identifies with Moses on some family issues and expectations.  Moses’ dad is a lawyer and wants his son to follow in his footsteps.  Moses would rather die than be a lawyer.  His interest lies in making movies and he constantly carries a video, capturing all of his surroundings on film.  Rebel’s family expected her to play the piano and follow her brothers in the music field but she expresses that she is “tone deaf.”

The two teens have every intention to help with the painting of the three-story Victorian home, but several events get them distracted.  They witness a thief steal a candy bar from the neighborhood deli and a mystery and adventure begin.

REVIEW:  This is an easy book to read.  The author captures the reader’s attention quickly and it is hard to put the book down, as the characters are developed with unique personalities that are easy to like.  Moses and Rebel establish a bond, and the reader senses there is somewhat of an attraction as they work on the house, hang out, and solve a mystery together.  Gram and Old Vi are feisty old ladies with dogs that add depth to the plot.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Plot, Sequence of Events, Main Idea and Supporting Details, Characters, Conflict, Cause and Effect, and Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: The Kidnappers: A Mystery, Twisted Summer, The One Left Behind


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

February 16, 2008

The Thief Lord

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 10:21 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The Thief Lord

Author: Cornelia Funke

Page Length:  349 (including a brief Italian glossary)

Reading Level: 5


PLOT SUMMARY: The Thief Lord is a magical story set in Venice. Prosper and Bo were orphaned by the death of their parents and sent to live with their aunt and uncle. Unfortunately, their aunt and uncle think children are decorative and should behave as little adults. They decide to keep the younger golden haired angelic looking child, Bo; but, they desire to send the older boy, Prosper, away to boarding school. Determined to stay together, the boys run away to Venice, the city their mother had always told them fantastic tales about.  In Venice, Prosper and Bo join a family of runaways holed up in an abandoned theater and provided for by a by who calls himself, The Thief Lord. Scipio, The Thief Lord, magically appears with expensive items the children trade to a greedy underhanded shop owner for cash. The children have food and some semblance of warmth thanks to the gracious Thief Lord. However, Victor, the detective hired by their aunt, is hot on their trail.


One day, Barbarossa, the thrift shop owner, tells them of a client who will pay handsomely for the Thief Lord’s services. The kids embark on an adventure to steal a wooden wing. Their escapades lead them on many adventures. They come to befriend Ida Spavento and Victor the detective. Both Ida and Victor become involved in the quest to discover why the old man desires the wing and if the magical merry go round of the Merciful Sisters (known to make one young or old) actually exists. Intermingled amongst the story of the book are the struggles of the children. Their sadness at being homeless echoes throughout the book, but so does their bond and love for one another.


REVIEW: The book explores the themes of homelessness and survival. Readers realize how much Prosper, still a child himself, takes on the fatherly role to care for his younger brother. We meet, Hornet, a young girl with a love for books who reads to her “family” and soothes them in times of need. Scipio, the thief and provider of the group, has his own complicated family issues. The book really drives home the need for children to feel loved and valued. Funke reveals all to well that money does indeed not buy happiness.


This story develops nicely with surprising plot twists and turns. I found it to be a little a slow in the beginning however the last two-thirds of the book was much more engaging. This book would lead to some excellent discussions about life, love, and the pursuit of youth. Cornelia Funke is great about posing what if questions and exploring fantastical possibilities that seem almost possible.  I really enjoyed reading the story and would recommend it to my students (perhaps even more so the boys than the girls).




MOVIE CONNECTIONS: This book was made into a movie in 2006.


RELATED WEBSITES: (Venice website) 


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


Blog at