Kid Reporters

Wonder Years

TFK chats with author Brian Selznick about his new book, Wonderstruck

October 19, 2011
COURTESY POMEROY FAMILY

TFK Kid Reporter David Pomeroy chats with author Brian Selznick at Friends’ Central School, in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

In best-selling author Brian Selznick’s latest book, Wonderstruck, you get two stories for the price of one. Ben’s story is set in 1977, and is told entirely in words. Rose’s story, set 50 years earlier, is told entirely in pictures. Both characters are deaf, both are 12, and both set out on a journey to New York City to find a long-lost parent.

Recently, TFK Kid Reporter David Pomeroy sat down with Selznick at Friends’ Central School, in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. Read on to see what the author says about the inspiration behind Wonderstruck, and about the writing life.

TFK:

What were your favorite books when you were younger?

BRIAN SELZNICK:

I had a lot of books by Remy Charlip when I was a kid. He made a lot of fun picture books. My favorite book of his was called Fortunately, about a boy named Ned who gets invited to a surprise party. My favorite thing about it is that every time you turn the page, a new part of the story is revealed so the structure of the book is part of how the story is told.

I also loved a book by him called Hand Talk, a book that teaches finger spelling and sign language, which was an inspiration for Wonderstruck. I also loved a book by Mary Norton called The Borrowers, which is about a family of little people who lived under the floorboards of a kid’s house. I thought it was a true story, so I made furniture for the little people that lived under the floorboards of my house.

TFK:

Who and what inspired you to become a writer?

SELZNICK:

I’ve drawn pictures my whole life, so mostly, I thought of myself as an artist. Even in kindergarten, my teacher wrote on my report card that I was a good artist. When I was young, I’d also write fantasy stories about children who could fly and about underwater cities and unicorns with wings. But it wasn’t until I graduated college that I decided to write and illustrate children’s books. I became friends with Remy Charlip, who was an inspiration, as was Maurice Sendak, who wrote Where the Wild Things Are. I learned a lot from reading that book. I didn’t read it until I was grown up. It’s one of the best picture books ever made, I think. So those were some inspirations for me.

TFK:

Do people you know, such as family members or friends, have an influence on any of the characters you write?

SELZNICK:

A lot of times when I make up characters, I think about what I was like as a kid first. I remember things that I really loved when I was a kid, so sometimes my characters love the same things. Sometimes, family members have an influence. For example, my brother, Lee, was born deaf in one ear. He was the inspiration for the character, Ben, in Wonderstruck. Also, I have a friend, Andy, who is a mechanical genius. He can fix anything. He told me about fixing things when he was a kid and that was my inspiration for Hugo in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

TFK:

Which of the awards you’ve won is most important to you?

SELZNICK:

I’ve won an award called the Caldecott Medal, which is an award given for picture books. Usually, it’s given to a book like Where the Wild Things Are, which is 32 pages long. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is more than 500 pages long. If you took all the books that have won the Caldecott Medal in the last 10 years, and put them all together, it would be about as long as Hugo. I think Hugo was the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal, so that was very exciting.

The very first award I won was called the Lemme Award. I got an envelope in the mail that said I had won the Lemme Award. I was very excited. I thought to myself, “Wow, I won the Lemme Award!” Then I thought, “What’s the Lemme Award?” So I looked at the envelope and found it was from the Helen Lemme Elementary School, in Iowa City, Iowa. It meant that kids from the school liked my book Houdini Box best. In a lot of ways, the Lemme Award is just as important to me as the Caldecott Medal.

Kid Reporter
J. David Pomeroy

TFK:

Your books have both pictures and words. Why?

SELZNICK:

I came up with the idea while working on The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I wanted to tell a story that felt like a movie, because Hugo has a lot to do with the movies. When I was working on Wonderstruck, I wanted to tell two different stories: one with just pictures, and the other with just words. Also, I thought it would be interesting if I told the story of a deaf character in pictures. I heard a quote from a deaf educator who said that deaf people are the “people of the eye.” I think that’s because sign language is a language that you look at and watch. I thought it would be interesting to tell a story about a deaf person in a way that echoes the way they experience their own life.

TFK:

What motivated you to write Wonderstruck?

SELZNICK:

After I finished Hugo, I knew it was time for me to start working on a new book. I was thinking about everything I learned from making Hugo, and decided I wanted to tell the story of a deaf character. I also thought of other things I liked when I was a kid, like museums. So I came up with two stories about two kids who run away to the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, and I set those two stories 50 years apart.

TFK:

How does time play a role in this book?

SELZNICK:

Time is a very important part of this book because the stories take place in two different time periods. There is the story set in the 1920’s and the story set in the 1970’s. I had to do a lot of research for these two different time periods. [In the book, you see] what happens when time passes and how it changes people, and how the characters grow up and find their friends, their communities and their cultures. When you read the book, you switch back and forth between both time periods. I wanted to have moments where the reader feels that the time periods interact and echo each other.

TFK:

What will you try to accomplish in your next book?

SELZNICK:

I’m already writing my next book. I know where it takes place and who the characters are. I don’t know the whole plot yet, but I know a lot about the story. Every time I make a book, my goal is to make a book that is better than the one I made before. My goal is to always learn something new. I don’t want to ever repeat myself. That’s scary, because it means you can always fail, but it’s important to push yourself.

TFK:

Do you have any advice for young writers?

SELZNICK:

The most important things are to write as much as you can, read as many books as you possibly can, always hang out with people who are smarter than you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!


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