In "Wonderstruck," Brian Selznick tells the story of two children, Rose, deaf since birth, and Ben, without hearing after being struck by lightning, simultaneously through black-and-white graphic illustrations (Rose’s story) and written form (Ben’s adventures), as they search for lost parents in a big city, both are terrorized by storms, both find refuge in The New York Museum of Natural History and both have communication handicaps.
I thought: Is there a way of combining what the cinema can do with panning, and zooming in and out, and edits, and what a picture book can do with page turns, and what a novel does?

"WONDERSTRUCK," written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, Scholastic, $29.99, 637 pages (f) (ages 9 and up)

After viewing a documentary about the deaf community, Brian Selznick imagined that world through the lives of two children, Rose, deaf since birth, and Ben, without hearing after being struck by lightning.

“Wonderstruck” is told simultaneously through black-and-white graphic illustrations (Rose’s story) and written form (Ben’s adventures), set 50 years apart. Even though their lives were separated by decades, their experiences are parallel; both are searching for lost parents in a big city, both are terrorized by storms, both find refuge in the New York Museum of Natural History, both have communication handicaps.

Selznick begins one story, then seamlessly interjects the other without too many clues being given away to reach the fulfilling conclusion. When Ben and Rose finally do meet and the two stories interface, the cycle of one family is complete.

Selznick’s genius is shown again as it was in his award-winning book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” (of which a movie version will be released in November).

While the text is succinct and poignant, it is the iconographic-like illustrations that make this a spectacular book. Often the 460 pictures zoom in and out like a camera following a scene to a character, then to the face, to the full-page of an eye with expression of terror or joy. Selznick uses light, lines, shadows and total blackness to portray the finest details — a star, a museum wolf display, a scrapbook clipping or a hand seemingly in motion.

“I thought: Is there a way of combining what the cinema can do with panning, and zooming in and out, and edits, and what a picture book can do with page turns, and what a novel does?” Selznick said.

The complex plot is like searching for buried treasures. “Wonderstruck” — both novel and picture book — may require more than one reading to find the subtle literary clues and science connections. For example, Selznick says he included hints of the two children hidden in a museum in E.L. Konisburg’s “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” as well as numerous references to museum displays and collections.

Selznick’s rich moving story through pictures and text should keep the rapt attention of readers of all ages.

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