Wednesday, September 14, 2011
In A Flash---Brilliance!
It begins and ends with wolves drawn, as are all the visuals in this title, in pencil on watercolor paper. I can not help but liken Selznick's illustrations to fabric, so rich is their texture and detail that the reader's eyes are like fingers softly stroking something tangible held between them.
As we are drawn page by page pictorially into the essence of the two loping wolves ending in the soul spark center of one's eye the book switches to text. We are now at Gunflint Lake, Minnesota. It is June 1977. Ben Wilson has been awakened from a dream of wolves running behind him. Ben has lost his only parent, his mother the town librarian, in an automobile accident. A special wooden box holding a childhood of treasures engraved with a wolf, a can filled with rainy-day money, a tissue paper wrapped book with a bookmark stuck between its pages and a lightning strike lead Ben to run away in search of his past and future in New York City.
Moving back to illustrations only we are in Hoboken, New Jersey. It is October 1927. Rose's window in her home faces the skyline of New York City. There is a sadness, too, about this young girl whose room houses paper replicas of those very buildings that fill her gazes. She collects newspaper clippings of the actress, Lillian Mayhew, her mother. She flees her loneliness seeking help in New York City.
Reading the words of Ben's and the picture's of Rose's journeys, though fifty years apart, we follow as they find themselves in the rooms of the American Natural History Museum each seeking answers to their respective questions. We know that their paths are going to cross but the mystery lies in just how threads of this story will weave together. As Selznick leads us visually and textually through the workings of museums past and present our appreciation grows for their presence in our cultural community and in the part they play as these characters travel toward one another in an ending that is intricately moving.
One important piece of this tale that I want to address separately is that Rose is deaf. Ben initially is deaf in one ear but becomes completely deaf through a twist of nature. As stated in his five page acknowledgments at the book's end, as well as in his selected bibliography, Selznick painstakingly researched deafness and the Deaf culture. Even without those statements readers feel the silence of their worlds, admire their courage and will leave with a far greater appreciation for their own hearing.
Regardless of this book's length I could not turn the pages quickly enough as Selznick's skill as a pacer of perfection drew me ever forward; he knew the precise moment to change from illustration to text and back again without missing a beat.
This work, Wonderstruck: A Novel in Words and Pictures, comes from the heart; the heart of author/illustrator, Brian Selznick. It is no accident the word art is within heart. This is pure art; the kind that hangs in your mind, a cabinet of wonders, preserved always making up the pieces of who you are. Brilliance, indeed!
Visit the Scholastic web site for Wonderstruck: A Novel in Words and Pictures which also links to Selznick's web site.