Scholastic, 2011 629 pages
Graphic Hybrid/Historical Fiction
Two alternating stories trace the journeys of two different young people in the same place at different times, who's stories merge by book's end. The book begins and ends with pictures of wolves, an element which powerfully joins the tales and is significant to the over-all story. The first account is told in text form. It narrates the plight of Ben, who lives with his aunt and uncle in a small lake town in Minnesota. Ben's single mother recently died, leaving Ben bereft and devastated. While exploring her things he comes across a mysterious locket containing the picture and name of a man. A vintage book highlighting wonders of the the Museum of Natural History in New York City inscribed with the man's name and a book mark with his address leaves Ben to believe the mysterious fellow might be his father. A strike of lightning immediately following this discovery leaves him deaf and he bravely escapes from the hospital and travels to the gritty New York City of 1977 to find his father, eventually landing at the Natural History Museum and meeting a friend. His new friend Jamie's father works at the museum and has access to the secret back rooms. He helps Ben hide-out in the museum and follow the clues which lead him to the truth behind his heritage. Meanwhile, an alternate story, told exclusively in illustrations, traces the journey of Rose in the 1920's. Rose is deaf and living in Hoboken with a cold and distant father. Her mother, a silent movie actress, is not interested in raising or nurturing her. With no where else to go she lands at the workplace of her older brother, an employee at the Museum of Natural History, Walter, who takes her in and involves her in his work. Both stories come together and the emotional ending is conveyed through both illustrations and text working cohesively.
This has been publicly documented as one of my official favorite books (see blog post 12/4/14). I have re-read it it for maybe the sixth time for my fifth and sixth grades book group and it never fails to completely "wonder-strike" me. It is a beautifully told book with a great plot, surprise ending, interesting historical bits, stunning illustrations, and lyrical writing that shows how best a middle grade novel can contain multiple formats that not only work well together but become a literary devise unto themselves. I still feel that Selznick was robbed of a Newbery for this title and feel strongly that it is his best work. Whenever I recommend this book to children they immediately balk at the shear size of the volume and that is, indeed, a detractor, but the book reads very quickly. Kids who aren't scared away by the length always love it. The stories are layered and rich and the telling is sophisticated. Selznick offers extensive notes at the end of the volume, proving that he conducted massive amounts of research. A bibliography will lead readers to learn more about one of the many interesting topics explored in this novel, including Deaf culture, the transition from silent to talking cinema, the Natural History Museum, the 1964 World's Fair and the Queen's Museum, and wolves. Wonderstruck does for the Museum of Natural History what The Mixed Up Files does for the Met and Selznick acknowledges the inspiration and challenges the reader to find little similarities he places within his book. Children will fantasize about having their own adventure living in such a wonderful place and may be, at the very least, encouraged to visit and check out the diorama of the wolves of Gunflint Lake Minnesota in person. From the silver end-papers to the title page at the end of the book with a dedication to Maurice Sendak readers will be transported to a magical place and breath a contented sigh for a book well done and satisfying.