Brian Selznick took a job at a children's book store decades ago to better understand how they're written. Today, the award-winning author/illustrator behind books such as "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" and "Wonderstruck" is revolutionizing children's literature with his hybrid books that mix both pictures and words.
Selznick will be in Raleigh with a special multi-media presentation at 7 p.m., Friday, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, 3313 Wade Ave. It's part of Quail Ridge Books and Music's regular author series. His books are best for ages 9 and up.
Selznick travels here with his new book "The Marvels," which includes 400 uninterrupted pages of illustrations. To attend Friday's event, buy "The Marvels" from Quail Ridge and get as many as five tickets for the program. You'll also get a ticket for the signing line to have him sign your book. The book sells for $32.99. You also can buy admission only tickets for $5 admission (but you won't get a ticket for the signing line).
Selznick's work has been on the big screen. "Hugo," directed by Martin Scorsese, won five Academy Awards. Selznick won the Caldecott Medal for the book. He recently finished writing the screenplay for another book, "Wonderstruck." Shooting for that movie, to be directed by Todd Haynes, will start in 2016.
A fun fact: Selznick is related to Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, best known for "Gone with the Wind," "Rebecca," and "King Kong," among many others.
I checked in with Selznick, who is on a tour promoting "The Marvels," to learn more about his work, his new book and his presentation this Friday. Here's our conversation by email.
Go Ask Mom: You were a window painter and a bookseller before you published your first book. How long did it take for you to get that first work published - The Houdini Box in 1991?
Brian Selznick: I took the job at Eeyore's Books for Children in New York City expressly so I could learn about children's books. When I had a version of "The Houdini Box" ready to show people, I Xeroxed it, put it in a report cover, and sent it to editors whose names I got from a book in the library. (It was 1990!). I also showed what I was working on to my boss at Eeyore's, Steve Geck, whose opinion I really respected. He liked the book and asked me if I'd like him to show it to his girlfriend who, he said, was the sales rep for Random House. I said, "uh...sure!" and she brought it to an editor there who very quickly called me and told me she wanted to publish it. We worked on the book for a year and it was published while I still worked in the store. It was fun to be a bookseller with a book on sale because it meant I always had a good book to recommend when a customer said they needed a gift for a 10-year-old!
GAM: The books that you've written and illustrated rely heavily on illustrations. Was it tricky to convince publishers that that combination would work?
BS: Picture books have always been popular and most of my work fell under that more traditional category until "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." Hugo was originally going to be a novella with one drawing a chapter but then it grew longer as I came up with the idea of telling part of the story through long visual sequences - like the Wild Rumpus in Where the Wild Things Are. My editor at Scholastic, Tracy Mack, loved the idea from the beginning and even encouraged me to make the book longer with more pictures.
GAM: Why do you think kids and their adults love them so much? I've heard from some parents of non-readers, who have said that they're kids didn't fall in love with a book until they saw one of yours.
BS: I write about subjects that I care passionately about, and about places and people I love. I hope some of that comes across in the books themselves. I usually write about subjects that people don't think are "kid-friendly" like French silent movies or deaf culture or 18th century theater history, but the context of these subjects in my stories hopefully makes them accessible and interesting to the reader. Plus I think there's a satisfaction in being able to read a 500-page book in one sitting, since half of the book is pictures. I've had adults tell me Hugo is the first 500-page book they've ever read.
GAM: What's "The Marvels" all about? What do you love about this story?
BS: The Marvels tells two stories, one about five generations of actors, all in pictures, and another, all in text, about a boy named Joseph who runs away from boarding school to look for an uncle he's never met before in London. Like "Hugo" and "Wonderstruck," it's about family and love and the power of storytelling, and once again it's filled with people and places I love. For example, one of the main inspirations is a mysterious, beautiful museum in London called The Dennis Severs House. It's like a time machine and it became the basis for the uncle's house in "The Marvels."
GAM: You'll be in Raleigh on Friday with a multi-media program. What's the program like? How do you incorporate your book(s) into it?
BS: My program includes video, music and behind the scenes stories about the making of my books, from the inspiration to the research to the rewrites, as well as mistakes along the way. I talk about my travels to Paris and London to make my books, and I also have stories from the set of the Hugo movie which was directed by Martin Scorsese. I look forward to my time in Raleigh!