The story is a simple one: It is 1931. Hugo is an orphan who lives in a secret room in the train station and takes care of the clocks so that nobody will find out that his uncle has died. In his spare time, Hugo is working on his father’s automaton (a mechanical man who is supposed to write something when he is fully functional) in the hopes that the man will deliver a message from his dead father. Hugo becomes friends with another orphan girl and her foster father who turns out to be a filmmaker who was much admired by Hugo’s father.
Even though the story is a simple one, the book as a whole is multi-layered. The beautiful pencil drawings are integral to the story, often telling parts of it that the text does not. The drawings alone inspire awe and wonder, but together with the text, this book is unstoppable. It is over 500 pages long, but it is a very quick read since most of the pages are filled with drawings. The novel is loosely based on the actual French filmmaker, and the credits section at the end gives more information about Melies, films from the early movie era, and automatons.
Highly, highly recommended for grades 3-8.