In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott says, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

My hope is that this is what books become to you—as important as almost anything else on earth. This blog is about helping you find the miracle in these small, flat, rigid squares of paper while you are in middle school and beyond. Once you read alongside me, you are forever a member of my tribe of readers. No matter how you old you are, when you need to be reminded of the power of a good story, you will find me here, waiting to place one in your hands.

Friday, November 25, 2011

WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick

copyright: 2011
primarily marketed for: intermediate readers

Wonderstruck: experiencing a sudden feeling of awed delight or wonder (according to google)

What a delicious word to describe a delicious feeling. 

What a perfect title for this book.  I am not even sure it should be called a book at all, but rather an experience

Unlike The Invention of Hugo Cabret (also by Brian Selznick), where the images pick up and carry the story right where the text leaves off, the images in Wonderstruck tell a story that is parallel to the text. 

The way the images and text work together reminded of me of a ‘match cut’ edit in film.  The action being described in the text matches the image that follows or precedes the text.  However, the character, the time, the place, and the situation of the action are not the same.  In film this is a way to visually bridge two separate scenes.  In the book, this serves to link the two stories together, so that as a reader we expect them to eventually merge.  And they do.  Here is an example:  When the girl in the image is climbing out of a window and running across the lawn, so is the boy in the text (but for completely different reasons):

In addition to the craft with which the story is told, I was captivated by the idea of the story itself.  Ben is on a mission to uncover the truth about his biological father, while the reader is on a mission to uncover how his truth connects to the story told through images.  The first connection readers uncover is that both characters  are hearing impaired.  I can only name 2 other books for middle school students that include characters who are deaf without that being the central storyline: Granny Torelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech and Feathers by Jaqueline Woodson.  The inclusion of deaf culture, and especially in its historical context, is only one of the hidden gems that add to the richness of the story.

Another gem is the book within the book. I especially loved the ideas about museums Ben reads in the book he finds:

But let us pause here and ask ourselves, What exactly is a museum?  Is it a collection of acorns and leaves on a back porch, or is it a giant building costing tens of thousands of dollars, built to house the rarest and finest things on Earth?

‘It’s both!’ Ben heard himself say out loud.

Of course the answer is both.  A museum is a collection of objects, all carefully displayed to tell some kind of magnificent story.”

I was even more interested in the idea that Ben himself could be considered a curator.  The idea that we could all be considered curators.  Of our own collections. 

Clearly, I was not only “wonderstruck” by the story, but by the manner in which it was told.  Selznick is a genius.  After hearing him describe the way he wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I read Wonderstruck with deepened appreciation for his craft.  I knew how much research, thought, and planning went into each of those images.  I imagined that each image began as a sketch the size of a thumbnail, the way Selznick had described the starting images for Hugo Cabret.  I imagined the people he photographed as models for his characters.  I imagined which images of the settings were truly representative of an actual place.

While reading, my mind was ablaze with ideas for using this text in my classroom.  There are endless possibilities for strategy mini-lessons, springboards for writing or research, and discussions about the way images and text work together to tell the story. 

But most of all, I just love this book because it is such a cool story.


  1. Can't wait to read this one. I just finished "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" and fell in love with Selznik! (Gotta read the book before the movie, you know!)

    Love this blog--I will be back.

  2. Looks like another great book from Selznick!

    What a great website Christy. :) It's sure to become a go-to resource for teachers and kids alike. I will link to it on the TWT Blogroll right now.