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I’m not sure just how it’s supposed to work, exactly,

but we just received an audiobook edition of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, read by Jeff Woodman. Although the recording makes an attempt to convey the book’s lengthy visual sequences via the substitution of sound effects (lots of footsteps!) I’m not quite sure this works for so resolutely bookish a book, one where pictures and text take turns rather than acting in concert. A separate DVD featuring many of the illustrations is also included, though, so perhaps listeners can follow the story with some time with the pictures, and put together the puzzle of Hugo for themselves.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. david elzey says:

    >I hear that reading the book while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon works, too.

  2. >Huh– if you’re going to have an audiobook and a silent DVD, each of which is basically incomplete by itself, why not put them together as a movie with narration, so that you don’t have to fiddle with cueing them up at the same time, and hauling out your stereo to the same room as your TV?

  3. Anonymous says:

    >Tricky in the car, though.

  4. adrienne says:

    >I’ve had parents ask me for audio versions of the Captain Underpants books, which always makes me think, “Oh, you poor clueless adult.” Sometimes the illustrations are integral. I’d be inclined to circulate the Hugo audio with the book in a hanging bag in my library. Perhaps that’s what I shall do….

  5. Anonymous says:

    >The Invention of Hugo Cabret is such a piece of work!! Why go and ruin it with sound effects and other visuals. It’s a book- meant to be read and felt with the eyes and heart.

    Save that other stuff for the movie version!!!

  6. >Why didn’t they do it like a picture book? A simple {DING!} when its time to flip the page would suffice. Sure, there would be, oh, 100 or so {DING!}s in a row, but it could work…

    It does make me wonder whether publishers conduct any market research to determine who buys audio books, and why. –m

  7. Roger Sutton says:

    >I can see kids listening along as they read, for fun or help, but it’s hard for me to gauge what they would make of the story without seeing the pictures, since I can’t separate them in my head.

    I remember a friend of mine enjoying the audiobook of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I thought, albeit to a lesser degree, also relied on its pictures.

  8. Anonymous says:

    >An audio book of Hugo Cabret, with old timey radio theater sound effects! One imagines someone somewhere saying that it sounds so crazy it just might work. Too bad that it didn’t, but it’s not the worst odd thing that’s been conceived.

  9. >Pictures? There are pictures in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? I only listened to it on audiobook, on a long drive from Cleveland to Boston, and thought it was quite wonderful. It never occurred to me to look at the print version after. Pictures? Who knew…

  10. Anonymous says:

    >I felt the same way about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — my friend listened to it as an audiobook, and I thought that it was a shame he was missing out on the design and the powerful use of photographs.


  11. Roger Sutton says:

    >You all are making me think of my sister’s friend who left Gone With the Wind at intermission, thinking Scarlett would never go hungry again.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >I’m never quite sure if an author is supposed to comment about their own work on a blog, but I’ve enjoyed Roger’s blog in the past and just came across this discussion of the audiobook. I wanted to say that I had the same reservations about the idea of an audio book for Hugo…it seemed that the whole point of the book is that it is told with pictures to reference it’s relationship to early movies. But I’ll tell you the reason I said yes (and worked hard with the producers) on this audio project. In 1931, sound was a new thing to the movies (having been introduced of course in The Jazz Singer in 1927), but directors such as Rene Clair thought that sound might ruin movies. He believed that movies were essentially a visual medium, and that sound would make the storytelling too easy. So (for example) in a movie he made in 1931, Under the Roofs of Paris, he used sound sporadically, experimentally, and left the rest of the movie “silent.” This actually was part of the inspiration for having the bursts of images in Hugo (it would parallel the bursts of sound in Clair’s film). SO, when the idea of the audio version of the book was introduced, I was intrigued by the idea of how to use sound the way Clair did. The structure of the audio book is very much like the actual book, in that there are two distinct ways of storytelling working together (hopefully) to tell the tale. We worked really hard to make listenting to Hugo it’s own distinct experience. Yes, it’s different from the book, but the ultimate goal of it was the same, and for me I know I wouldn’t have undertaken the project if there wasn’t something unique that the audio book could do that was different from the book.
    Oh, and the DVD is completely seperate from the storytelling. It’s a half hour interview with me about making the book, and there is a section where you can see the picture sequences while I talk about the research and ideas that went into drawing them, kind of like a director’s commentary on a movie DVD. But the DVD is really just a bonus. The story exists entirely on the audio CD.
    Hope this clarifies some of the ideas behind the audiobook.

  13. Brian Selznick says:

    >Oh, obviously the above post was not supposed to be anonymous. I don’t post on blogs very often! The above post was written by Brian Selznick, the author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

  14. Maia Cheli-Colando says:

    I’ve only heard snippets myself – but my 10 year old, who has read the book many times, as well as the behind-the-scenes book, and watched some of the movies that the story is rooted in as well as seen the movie itself, enjoyed the audio book as well. So it worked for at least very one committed fan. 🙂 Ours didn’t come with the DVD, since we got bought it online for download. (Now I need to track that down!)

    Brian, thanks for posting your thoughts on the process. Part of what I found most rewarding about Hugo is the window you opened into a world of old media & invention, and I’m glad you sought to include that element in the audiobook as well.

  15. Angela Reynolds says:

    Interesting to read these comments so long after the audio was released. I happened to be on the Notable Recordings for Children committee the year this was released. I made my husband listen to this audio during a vacation car drive. I asked him what he thought of it — he really liked it. His opinion (rather like that of, say a 12 year old boy) was that “It didn’t have all that extra description and stuff”. When we got home I showed him the book — THERE was all the extra description and stuff, in the pictures.

    To each his own.

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