Laundry Schmaundry–Let’s Read Instead

“I wish I belonged somewhere.”  p. 351

Wonderstruck

Creator:  Brian Selznick

Instead of doing laundry, or “correcting” papers, or several other practical sorts of things, I spent the early evening reading Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick.  I remember enjoying The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and thinking it was interesting in structure…but I didn’t love it, innovative though it clearly was.  But I really, really liked Wonderstruck, and read it straight through.  Selznick uses both text and pictures to shape the novel in much the same way he did in Hugo Cabret.  This time the stories of two people, seemingly separated by many decades, become intertwined.  Rose is a deaf girl frustrated by the overly protective life her parents insist on as she grows up near the end of the silent film era.  Ben is just a boy in the mid-1970s when his mother dies and he is subsequently struck by lightning and loses his hearing.  Slowly their stories come together until they eventually meet and have a surprising connection to one another.

So Selznick’s genius is in using his illustrations not to enhance the text, but as an integral part of the story–it simply could not be told without the illustrations, which act like a silent movie, telling the bulk of Rose’s story in parallel to Ben’s.  Because the illustrations take up so much page-space, the book is huge, just like Hugo Cabret, but the full story is not particularly long as middle grade novels go (the level clocks in around 4.6ish).  But really what I like about Wonderstruck, what made it work for me as a reader, is that the characters feel so rich.  Ben and Rose are each lost in their own ways, each searching and yearning, and I quickly found myself right their with them in their struggles.  And that’s what makes a story for me, regardless of structure.

I am totally planning this as my next read aloud.  I’ve been toying with maybe trying a graphic novel as a read aloud, what with the fancy document camera and interactive whiteboard I’m fortunate enough to employ in my classroom.  I’ve done picture books and other short text this way, but this will be my first whole novel “on the big screen”.  I think the students will find the main characters compelling, and those same characters will provide us with many and varied opportunities for practice making inferences, which is something we always need.  I won’t be done with my current read aloud for a couple more weeks, and I’ll be counting the days until my whole class can get Wonderstruck along with me.

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