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The Invention of Hugo Cabret

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By Brian Selznick

This extract, from the novel by Brian Selznick, is about an orphaned boy called Hugo. He inherits his father’s clock-mending talent and leads a secret, hidden life maintaining the clocks in a Parisian railway station while trying to rebuild a mechanical man, following notes from his father’s notebooks.

After he is caught stealing by the toy booth manager, who confiscates the notebooks, Hugo is forced into the open. He discovers that the old man was a pioneer silent movie film-maker and a whole series of mysterious events unfold.

Hugo Cabret website The official website for the novel. Includes a video interview with Brian Selznick, more information on the story and Georges Méliès who inspired it, news, and links to Brian Selznick’s favourite weird websites!

Online extras

Available to download below: read about the story’s background; the works of Georges Méliès, and how they inspired the author; and read our exclusive interview with Brian Selznick.

Previous learning

Before using the extract, try to: show the children some clips from old black and white films, such as Laurel and Hardy, or the original Georges Méliès film A Trip to the Moon (on the Hugo Cabret website); make flicker books, echoing the flickering images of old, cinema; read our supporting online resources to set the story into context.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To infer writers’ perspectives;
  • To experiment with narrative forms and styles;
  • To reflect critically on their writing, edit and improve it;
  • To understand how writers use structures to create coherence/impact.

Before reading

  • Look at all three texts alongside one another – the story extract and the online interview and background information. Identify the genres and key features.
  • Scan the texts for unfamiliar vocabulary (eg, automaton, mechanisms, intricate) and devise decoding strategies and ways to remember how to spell them. Distinguish between the everyday use of words like automatic and the subject-specific use – eg, automaton.

During reading

  • Read the story extract and construct a series of questions for the author.
  • Infer the writer’s perspective from what he has written. Does he want the audience to like Hugo and his father?
  • How does he encourage the reader to feel fascinated by the automaton?
  • How does he use language for dramatic effects? Notice the use of short questions by Hugo which increases the pace and impact, and the descriptive words used by his father to describe the automaton: “It’s the most beautiful, complicated machine I’ve ever seen…”


  • Appraise the story in pairs, considering dramatic effect, use of language and whether it makes you want to find out what happens next.
  • Discuss what Hugo’s dad would have wanted him to do with the automaton in the next part of the story. Can we deduce the author’s point of view?
  • Note down all the descriptions of the automaton. What does the figure represent symbolically?
  • Discuss the background information and author interview. Explore the idea that this is a fictional story based on real places and people. If possible, build up a fact file of other books based on true stories. For example, Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom was inspired by a real Japanese soldier who was alone for nearly 40 years on an island after the Second World War, while the character of Sophie in BFG is inspired by Roald Dahl’s granddaughter of the same name.
  • Complete the SAT style activity sheet.

Writing activity

  • Ask each child in the group to describe a valued personal item.
  • Write stories about these treasured items, using ICT if possible and experimenting with different narrative formats and styles. Plan the story using the activity sheet. Inject pace into the narrative through direct speech, description, action and selection of detail.
  • Encourage children to reflect critically on their writing, or read their drafts to an editing partner, and experiment with the sections, paragraphs and sentences to achieve different effects.
  • Edit the stories as a group and correct punctuation.
  • Add graphics, where appropriate.

Speaking and listening

  • Hot seat a child (or the teacher) in the role of Hugo’s father. Ask key what, where, when, how and who questions to elicit information about his plans and his hopes for the automaton.


  • Explore how an editing partner helps correct a first draft of a story. Model how to check for full stops and commas by reading written work aloud, and how to use more sophisticated punctuation to denote expression.
  • Write up thoughts about the story in a reading journals (see our How to… keep a reading journal) .


  1. parer plans
    on 13 September 2011

    the inventan of hugo caberet

    it is a really good book for yr 6 and yr7 because it is really intresting and it makes you want to read it all day long because you want to find out the secrets and what will happen and there are 526 pages but it is good for learning an i would recamend this book to people


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