When Hugo’s father perished in a fire, Uncle Claude took Hugo into his apartment in the train station and taught him how to care for the clocks. Now that Uncle Claude has disappeared, Hugo takes care of the clocks himself, hiding in the walls of the train station, stealing food when he can, and avoiding the Station Inspector. As soon as the clocks have been tended to, Hugo turns back to the secret project that keeps him going: the automaton man at the writing desk that Hugo’s father had been repairing when he died. Hugo is sure that if he can fix the automaton, the mechanical man will write a message from his father. Using his father’s notebook as a guide, he steals toys from the station toy booth and uses their parts to replace the missing and broken pieces. But one day, the toy maker catches him. When he sees Hugo’s notebook, he seems horrified and confiscates it immediately. Although Hugo follows him to his house, he cannot convince the toy maker to give it back. But he does meet Isabelle, the toy maker’s goddaughter, who seems to have secrets of her own. Together, she and Hugo try to get the notebook back and to decipher the automaton’s mysterious message.
This book has a very interesting premise that was inspired by a true story. It is told in words and pictures, switching back and forth between pages of prose and full-page drawings. As you discover later in the book, the format is very intentional for this particular story. I found it a bit challenging to get into because the transition between words and pictures was somewhat jarring (very different from reading a graphic novel!). But once I got into the rhythm, and deeper into the story, I was grateful for the story-telling images. The book deserves its Caldecott Medal.
Side note: Martin Scorsese is directing a film adaptation, which will be released in November 2011, and which I am very excited about–not least of all because the toy maker will be played by Ben Kingsley! I have very high hopes for this film, and you will definitely be hearing my opinions on it in November!