Hugo: Movie of a Film-within-a-Novel

I don’t know how I missed the announcement that Brian Selznick’s Caldecott-winning masterpiece The Invention of Hugo Cabret was going to be adapted for film. But it’s coming!

In case you don’t know, the Caldecott Medal is awarded “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” So you really must find a copy of the book and read/view it before you see this movie. I also encourage you to read Mr. Selnick’s acceptance speech, in which he explains how he “came to make a 550-page picture book,” and how he created “a novel that read like a movie,” and which also includes a cinematic illustrated sequence at the beginning, modeled after the introductory sequence of illustrations from the book.

Mr. Selznick is only credited as a writer for this movie (just for the book, not for the screenplay), which I find perplexing, because the book is very much about films. He also has skill with miniature set design, as I witnessed in person during a 2009 performance of “Live Oak, With Moss” at the HERE arts center (link contains a some mature themes). I can’t help but wonder whether the film would be different under Mr. Selnick’s artistic direction if the rights hadn’t been sold to a big studio with a big budget. Is he pleased that his film-within-a-novel has been given life on the big screen, or does he wish he’d been in a position to give more input? Perhaps a mix of both.

In any case, this does look like an appealing movie, and it has a cast I can get behind: Chloe Moretz (who somehow really stuck in my mind after an episode of 30 Rock), Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Jude Law. The actor who plays the titular character does look like Hugo from the book. And don’t forget, it’s directed by Martin Scorsese.

The movie will be released in the U.S. on November 23, giving you plenty of time to get your hands on the book in advance.

Hard Times in Children’s Publishing

A recent article over at The Bookseller discusses examples of children’s book creators who struggle to survive financially. It contains some interesting quotes and a lively debate in the comments.

I’m not sure if one can take a few examples and start assuming that a children’s literature apocalypse is coming, but I do agree that it’s not easy to make money as a writer or as an editor. It does seem that many undeserving books are published each year, and I usually dismiss those as ones publishers hope will sell without too much effort. As long as those books make money, an editor can continue to publish the less obvious, riskier book that may be a more worthwhile read.

Remember, most book editors spend their time in the office crunching numbers and generating paperwork to defend the marketability of the titles they want to acquire, then do the majority of their reading and actual editing work on their personal time. It’s a demanding job, and it doesn’t pay well.

So, what’s the best way to maintain the quality of children’s books and to make sure good creators continue to be published? Buy those books. Recommend them to friends. Support your local library. And keep librarians in schools, so that they can continue to select the best books to help our children develop important skills and to become discerning readers in their own right.

New Stephenie Meyer Book in the Works

Last week, Publishers Lunch cited an article from USA Today mentioning Stephenie Meyer’s current work-in-progress.

Stephenie Meyer revealed some details about the as-yet-untitled novel she’s reportedly working on: “It’s a fantasy that takes place in another world where people are using bows and arrows and swords. There’s a little bit of magic, but it’s a very limited form of magic. The characters are human, and some have the ability to use magic and some don’t. It’s pretty dark. People die. The main character is a 17-year-old girl, and she’s kind of cool.”

The full article includes many more tidbits from the Twilight author.

Reflections on Enchanted Glass

While I am still hoping to find that another of Jones’ books is a masterpiece on the same level as Howl’s Moving Castle (my favorite), I am always just purely relieved to read one of her books. Why? Because her writing, her storytelling style, is so effortless that I read her books practically unconsciously.

In remembrance of Diana Wynne Jones, whose passing I posted about yesterday, I’m sharing this piece which I wrote last year.

Diana Wynne Jones, as you may already know, is an extremely prolific and talented fantasy writer. I’ve been slowly making my way through her catalog of delicious books featuring idiosyncratic protagonists and magical mysteries. I found out recently that she had a new book published in 2010, and after a few weeks of checking the electronic library catalog and happily finding that my local copy appeared to be checked out by a string of readers until the end of time, I placed a hold on the book. One fall Friday, after a stressful week at work, I was pleasantly surprised to get an email from the library stating that the book was ready for me to pick up.

Enchanted Glass did not disappoint. While I am still hoping to find that another of Jones’ books is a masterpiece on the same level as Howl’s Moving Castle (my favorite), I am always just purely relieved to read one of her books. Why? Because her writing, her storytelling style, is so effortless that I read her books practically unconsciously. As a child, I could suck up just about any book like drinking a glass of water. As an adult I’m a bit more self-conscious as I read, and I get distracted by strangely-phrased sentences, awkward dialogue, or the neighbor’s baby screaming out on the street. But with this author, I can completely block out everything going on around me and forget about the real world for a while. I bring her books to the laundromat, which is full of flat-screen TVs issuing political talk and Spanish-dubbed movies, small children pushing the laundry carts around just to see how fast they can go, and sometimes (if I’m lucky) a man with a snake; none of which makes the time pass any faster. DWJ makes laundry OK.

Magic is never formulaic in her books, yet it always holds up to close scrutiny. In the case of this book, it involves a principle I quite enjoyed, having been one of many unfortunate children to wear glasses: the good guys in this book use their naked eyesight to see deeper magic and make their magical commands stronger. I will not bother to get into more specifics with this one; what I will say for a review is that any fan of this author or genre will not be disappointed. And I think it left room for a companion volume, which I hope she is already writing.

Addendum: I was intrigued by one meal that appeared multiple times in this book. It’s presented repeatedly to the central character as punishment by the surly housekeeper, so I can only assume that Diana Wynne Jones was not a fan of it–at least, not as a child. I wanted to give it a whirl and decide if it’s really as disgusting as the central character thinks it is. I figured it was the perfect meal to try during the fall, when the cauliflower was still prevalent at the market and the weather was getting colder. I chose a recipe claiming to have a traditional English flair.

I’ll just say that the meal did not turn out at all as I had hoped. It was a lot of cauliflower. And I didn’t follow the directions as well as I should have, because I didn’t fry the boiled florettes long enough to dry them off. The whole casserole had about an inch of goopy, cheesy water at the bottom. I still think the dish has potential if cooked perfectly, but next time I try it (which may be never), I’ll make sure there are a few more cauliflower lovers around with whom I can share it.

Worlds from Words

Diana Wynne Jones passed away two days ago. I lament the fact that she will not be able to write any longer. I hope she had several finished or almost-complete manuscripts that just haven’t been published yet.

Magic was paramount in the worlds Diana Wynne Jones created. It was integral. She made magic feel natural and wonderful and dangerous all at once.

Thank you for your works, Diana Wynne Jones.