Selznick, B. (2011). Wonderstruck. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
Brian is a partially deaf 12 year old boy who lives at Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in 1977. Rose is a fully deaf young girl living in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927, and is fascinated with the silent film actress Lillian Mayhew. Brian’s story is told in words, while Rose’s story is told in pictures.
Brian, after recently losing his mother in an accident, becomes increasingly curious about who his father is. After searching his mom’s bedroom, he finds a book called Wonderstruck in one of her dresser drawers. Inside the book, he finds a note that says for Danny Love, M. Inside the book is a bookmark advertising a bookstore in New York City with a note for Elaine (his mom) from Danny (the owner of the book). He also finds a silver locket with a picture of a man that looks like him and on the back is the name Daniel. Ben decides to call but as he is calling, lightning strikes the house traveling through the phone and causing him to go deaf in his good ear. After he spends time in the hospital, he decides to skip out and head to New York City in search of his dad.
Through the pictures, we see that Rose in unhappy where she is and she sneaks out to go to the cinema to see a film starring Lillian Mayhew. We see Rose cut up a book about teaching the deaf to lip-read and speak. She turns the pages of the book into buildings. She cuts out a newspaper clipping about Lillian Mayhew and adds it to a thick scrapbook with other information and memorabilia of Mayhew. We see her pack a suitcase including her scrapbook, art supplies, books, a guide to New York and a postcard from Walter and she leaves home. Rose goes to the stage where Lillian Mayhew is performing and we find out that Lillian Mayhew is her mother. When Mayhew tries to lock Rose in a dressing room in order to send her back home, Rose sneaks out a window to go find Walter.
Both Ben and Rose, in their different times, end up at the American Museum of Natural History. Once both characters are in New York City, their story slowly comes together and they find the hope and love they have been longing for.
The back and forth between the black and white pictures telling one story to the text telling another seem to go together but not really. The stories of the two characters, Ben and Rose, are oddly similar, causing the reader to question whether the Selznick accidently drew a girl in the pictures while writing about a boy. Eventually, an understanding of the pictures and their significance is met, bringing the two stories together and intermingling them more than was first imagined. Together they tell a beautiful story of sadness, love, longing and hope.
Library Use Suggestions:
Read aloud portions of the book involving Ben and show pictures of Rose that relate to Ben’s story. What are similarities and difference between Ben and Rose?
Discuss deafness and how deaf people communicate – reading lips and sign language.
Brian Selznick didn't have to do it.
He didn't have to return to the groundbreaking pictures-and-text format that stunned the children's-book world in 2007 and won him an unlikely—though entirely deserved—Caldecott medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Weighing in at about two pounds, the 500-plus page tome combined textual and visual storytelling in a way no one had quite seen before.
In a world where the new becomes old in the blink of an eye, Selznick could have honorably rested on his laurels and returned to the standard 32-to-48–page picture-book format he has already mastered. He didn't have to try to top himself.
But he has.
If Hugo Cabret was a risky experiment that succeeded beyond Selznick and publisher Scholastic’s wildest dreams (well, maybe not Scholastic’s—they dream big), his follow-up, Wonderstruck, is a far riskier enterprise. In replicating the storytelling format of Hugo, Selznick begs comparisons that could easily find Wonderstruck wanting or just seem stale.
Like its predecessor, this self-described "novel in words and pictures" opens with a cinematic, multi-page, wordless black-and-white sequence: Two wolves lope through a wooded landscape, the illustrator's "camera" zooming in to the eye of one till readers are lost in its pupil. The scene changes abruptly, to Gunflint Lake, Minn., in 1977. Prose describes how Ben Wilson, age 12, wakes from a nightmare about wolves. He's three months an orphan, living with his aunt and cousins after his mother's death in an automobile accident; he never knew his father. Then the scene cuts again, to Hoboken in 1927. A sequence of Selznick's now-trademark densely crosshatched black-and-white drawings introduces readers to a girl, clearly lonely, who lives in an attic room that looks out at New York City and that is filled with movie-star memorabilia and models—scads of them—of the skyscrapers of New York.
Readers know that the two stories will converge, but Selznick keeps them guessing, cutting back and forth with expert precision. Both children leave their unhappy homes and head to New York City, Ben hoping to find his father and the girl also in search of family. The girl, readers learn, is deaf; her silent world is brilliantly evoked in wordless sequences, while Ben’s story unfolds in prose. Both stories are equally immersive and impeccably paced.
The two threads come together at the American Museum of Natural History, Selznick's words and pictures communicating total exhilaration (and conscious homage to The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Hugo brought the bygone excitement of silent movies to children; Wonderstruck shows them the thrilling possibilities of museums in a way Night at the Museum doesn't even bother to.
Visually stunning, completely compelling, Wonderstruck demonstrates a mastery and maturity that proves that, yes, lightning can strike twice.
(2011, July 1). [Review of Wonderstruck]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/brian-selznick/wonderstruck/