Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick: an amazing blend of words and pictures (ages 9 - 12)

I absolutely love reading aloud to students - seeing them on the edge of their seats, watching their eyes light up with the "ah-ha" moments, pausing and letting them think about what's happening or pull pieces of a story together, giving them time to talk to partners about what's happening. It's a magical time of our day. We are reading Wonderstruck right now - Brian Selznick's newest book, an absolutely amazing blend of words and pictures. This would make a wonderful book to read together as a family - there is so much to talk about, share and - really, just revel in the wonder of his story.
by Brian Selznick
NY: Scholastic, 2011
ages 9 - 12
nominated for 2011 Cybils award, graphic novel
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or Amazon
Wonderstruck tells two stories, one in words and a completely different one in pictures. Ben and Rose are two young people, each searching for themselves, trying to figure out who they are, where they belong. Ben's story is told through words, as the readers follow him from his home in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota to New York City in search of his father. Ben lost his mother to a car accident earlier this year, and he never knew his father. After Ben uncovers clues that might lead him to discover his father, he sets off on a quest. Ben is deaf in one ear, but when he is making a phone call to try to track down his father, lightning strikes the telephone line and Ben is made completely deaf. His search through New York City is fraught with difficulties as he tries to navigate this confusing world without his hearing.

Rose's story is told completely through pictures. Readers have to look at each picture, thinking about what information you can put together about Rose's story. Rose is completely deaf, and so her story is silent but full of emotion and visual details - much as her world would have been. Rose is also searching for herself, trying to connect with her distant mother, trying to find her place in the world.

I knew this would be a wonderful story to read aloud with students, because I wanted to share Brian Selznick's innovative storytelling style. We have to read the pictures as carefully as the text. The first time I read this story, I felt a bit off-balance as I had to work hard to piece together the different parts of the story, especially with Rose's story. We've talked about this in class - readers have to work to infer a lot of information, reading between the lines, as it were. Authors don't always tell you straight out everything that happens - you have to figure it out by putting together clues. For example, my daughter figured out early in Rose's story that her name was Rose because there was a birthday card taped to her bedroom wall with "Happy Birthday Rose" written on it. I didn't notice that card, and it took me half of the book to figure out Rose's name! Another student noticed that she has a rose barrette in her hair. Ben's story, too, involves many flashbacks as Ben remembers times with his mother. Selznick's storytelling makes readers think. While this is challenging, my students are hooked and can't wait to find out what happens next.

Some students are fascinated by the idea of collecting things, how their collections of rocks or Pokemon cards is really the same form of collecting that a museum curator does as she or he puts together a natural history or art collection. Other students are fascinated by Rose and Ben's searches for their parents, by their feeling alone in the world. Other students are fascinated by Selznick's visual storytelling, looking for clues and connections between the pictures. I'm fascinated by that sense of wonder and awe we can have, what causes it, how to relish it and honor it.

Brian Selznick is promoting this book throughout the country. He's already visited many schools, libraries and bookstores. We'll be seeing him in Alameda, CA this week and can't wait. To see if he's coming to a town near you, check the Wonderstruck website for tour information.

You can get a sense of Wonderstruck from this book trailer:

Listen to a review and interview with Brian Selznick on National Public Radio. I adore hearing Selznick read aloud some of the story.

Read reviews at 100 Scope Notes and at Educating Alice.

The review copy was kindly sent by Scholastic Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

1 comment:

  1. Kellee recently reviewed this on our blog and I'm excited to read it. I have it in my car behind one other book I have to read first! :)