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Our book club met over the weekend at Novel Places, and despite being two members short, we had a great discussion.  Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick was one of the books nominated by The Girl (age 11), which means she led the discussion all on her own.  She wanted me to be ready to help if she needed it, but believe me, she was so well prepared and so confident, that she basically told me to stay quiet.  We’d read the book together, but she came up with an entire page of discussion questions on her own.

**Please be aware that this post could contain spoilers**

One of the main characters in the book, Ben, collects things, seemingly small and insignificant things, but they actually have a lot of meaning.  He keeps these things in a museum box, and Selznick writes about people being the curators of their own museums.  The Girl asked us what we would display in our museums, and all of our answers were quite different.  The Girl would put her favorite stuffed animals and some of her drawings in her museum, while I said the artwork she’s made me over the years, family photos, and of course, my Jane Austen collection would be in mine.

The Girl also encouraged us to discuss what we thought about the structure of the book, telling Ben’s story in words and Rose’s story in pictures, and whether we were surprised by how Selznick connected the two stories by the end.  It was cute that she said a lot of the revelations were “Captain Obvious,” given that we had the book figured out by the halfway point.  Most of us liked the way Selznick told the story, but one member liked the individual plot threads but didn’t think they all should have been included in the same book.

We also talked about whether any part of the book surprised us; for me and The Girl, it was Rose’s connection to the woman in her scrapbook.  Other things we touched upon were the meaning of an Oscar Wilde quote that seemed like it was supposed to be important (“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”); how Ben and Rose coped with being deaf (one having had speech, one having no real way to communicate) and whether Rose’s parents, given the time period, sheltered her too much; which story we liked better, with Ben’s winning the most votes; how some of us wished there had been more about Ben’s museum friend, Jamie; and how surprisingly deep Wonderstruck was for a middle-grade novel.

The Girl led the discussion like a pro, and I was so proud of her.  I’m also thankful that the members of our book club have embraced her and made her feel welcome.  She might not be able to join in the discussion for every book, but when she can, so certainly goes all out.  And I appreciate that they were willing to read a middle-grade novel and think about its intended audience, rather than simply dismiss it as a children’s book.

Next month’s book is When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, nominated by Serena.  I’ve been wanting to read this one for awhile, so I’m really excited.  My husband has already finished it and is getting on my case to start it because he’s having a hard time keeping quiet.  He thinks it’s the perfect book for a heated discussion.  I can’t wait!!

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Ben read it out loud: “‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’”

Because his mom was the town librarian, Ben was used to being surrounded by quotes from books, many of which he didn’t fully understand.  But this one struck him as particularly strange.

He thought about it for a moment, came up with nothing, then said, ‘What does that mean?”

His mom smiled and shrugged.

He was sure she knew exactly what it meant, but she liked him to figure out things for himself.

(from Wonderstruck, page 22)

Wonderstruck is a hefty book (637 pages), but it’s one of those books that you can’t stop reading once you’ve started, and before you know it, you’re done.  It also helps that 460 of those pages are artwork, but these illustrations don’t just bring the story to life…they tell their own story.

In Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick deftly weaves together two stories about two children in different eras, both of whom feel lost in the world and set off on journeys to find themselves.  It is 1977 in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, where a young boy, Ben, is grieving the death of his mother and confused by nightmares about wolves.  Having never known his father, Ben feels alone in the world.  All that he has is his memories of his mother and a museum box, his own “Cabinet of Wonders” in which he stores all the little trinkets that are precious to him.  A book he discovers hidden among his mother’s things prompts him to run away to New York City, where he embarks on an adventure involving a book store and a museum.

Rose’s story takes place in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1927.  Like Ben, Rose feels alone, cooped up in her room with no one to talk to, know one who understands her.  A scrapbook of a famous actress prompts Rose to climb out her window and flee to New York City, where she goes on an adventure of her own to find the one person who will know what she needs.

The structure of Wonderstruck is what makes it a delightful book.  The written narrative tells Ben’s story, while the illustrations show Rose’s.  Selznick tells both stories simultaneously; moving between the two characters took a bit of getting used to, but soon The Girl and I were flying through the book.  It’s amazing how much detail and emotion Selznick packs into the sketches and how we were able to get to know and understand Rose through pictures alone.  We especially loved how the pictures told a story, that they weren’t simply pictures used to illustrated what had already been written.

We were both surprised by how deep Wonderstruck was, even though there were times that the writing fell a little flat and was more telling than showing.  There were parts where The Girl said, “Um…we already know that!,” and we pretty much had the entire story figured out around the halfway mark — but that didn’t stop us from really enjoying it.  There were so many things to talk about, like museums and what objects we would put into museums of our lives, loss and grief, how much we depend on speech to communicate with others and how isolated we would feel without that.  Although Wonderstruck is geared toward children, adults can get a lot out of the book, too.  I didn’t expect there to be so many layers to the two stories, and it was refreshing to take a break from the written narrative and let the illustrations take over.

Wonderstruck is our book club’s June pick, and we will be meeting tomorrow for the discussion, which will be led by The Girl (age 11).  I can’t wait to see what she has planned for us!  In the meantime, she managed to jot down a few initial thoughts about the book.  She said she’s focused more of her energy on the book club discussion, and she’ll write up something for me to include next week when I post about the meeting.

The Girl’s thoughts:

*I’m really happy I read this book.  I found it interesting; it really makes you think.

*The illustrations are wonderful.  The pencil sketches were so vivid, you thought they were going to rub off.

*Some parts were kind of cheesy because they explained something in like two paragraphs that I already figured out in the first two sentences.

*I can’t decide if I like this book better than The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

*I think people of all ages would like this book.

*I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Stay tuned next week for our thoughts on the book club meeting!

Disclosure: We purchased our copy of Wonderstruck. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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