Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick is a quick read even at 600+ pages, and is a middle grade novel that pairs words and images to tell a heartfelt story of family, discovery, and understanding.  Ben, who has one good ear, has lost his mother in a car accident in 1977 Minnesota and is thrust into his aunt’s home with his cousin Robby, who isn’t too keen on sharing his room.  Ben by all accounts is a curious and shy boy, whom his mother showered with love and attention, encouraging him to scavenge for mementos along the way, which he kept in his museum box.  The loss of his mother weighs heavily on him, and upon discovering his other cousin, Janet, in his mother’s room, he decides to remain behind and feel closer to her.

Meanwhile, Rose’s story is told in drawings set in New Jersey and New York City.  The narration shifts from the present (1977) and Ben’s story to Rose’s story in 1927.  Their stories parallel one another at various points after Ben makes the fateful decision to run away to find the father he has never known.  Wolves, nature, and the Big Apple loom large in both stories as Ben and Rose make their way into the unknown.

Selznick’s prose has an easy flow between the illustrations and the text, and given that both stories are told in separate mediums, it is easy for younger readers to keep them straight. Most readers will note the parallels in the two stories and likely will uncover the final destination long before the last page is turned. The illustrations are detailed in some cases, but there are moments where the illustrations seem to be just filler pages to increase the suspense associated with Ben’s story of self-discovery. Rose’s story could have been told in fewer pages and more sparsely spaced throughout the book and the connections would still have been present.

“The curator then must decide exactly how the objects will be displayed.  In a way, anyone who collects things in the privacy of his own home is a curator.  Simply choosing how to display your things, deciding what pictures to hang where, and in which order your books belong, places you in the same category as a museum curator.” (page 98-9)

Additionally, readers may find that they wanted more about the teasing Ben endures as a boy with only one good ear and who does not know sign language, as well as more about Rose’s story as a young deaf girl in the late 1920s who is sheltered a little too much by her parents.  However, Selznick doesn’t always need a pencil to paint a picture of readers, especially when he can do it so well with words.

“Jamie came and sat next to him as the sky filled with shooting stars.  The projector rotated, the view changed, and the boys found themselves inside a meteor, hurtling across the sky.  They flew to the moon and bounced between craters.  One by one, the planets drifted into view, and soon they were out beyond the solar system, gazing down on the universe like ancient gods.  Ben thought of the glow-in-the-dark stars in his room, and the Big Dipper, and the quote about the stars, and his mom.  The glowing lights above him spun and swirled, tracing endless patterns against the perfect dome of the ceiling like a million electric fireflies making constellations in the dark.”  (page 406)

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick definitely will appeal to younger readers and illustrators, but it should not be discounted as a fluffy YA novel.  There is a deeper message about finding one’s place outside your own family, about discovering new places and wonders, and about finding the courage to take chances.

What the Book Club Thought (beware of spoilers):

Wonderstruck was the selection of our youngest member, The Girl from Diary of an Eccentric. She prepared discussion questions ahead of time to see what everyone thought of the entire book, the way the two stories were told, and whether anything surprised us. We also discussed what each of us would put in our own museum boxes, and answers ranged from coin collections and shells to Red Sox and Patriots stuff to pictures, stuffed animals, and other sentimental items.

We had an interesting discussion about the “Captain Obvious” nature of some of the prose (The Girl’s words, not ours), and about whether who Rose was or how the stories came together surprised any of us. Most of us were not surprised to find out who Rose was, but I was surprised to learn who Walter was. Many of us agreed that Rose’s ability to cut up a book for the deaf and create a paper replica of NYC was fantastic, and I particularly liked how one of the buildings she made had the picture of the mouth on it from the book. One of the male members liked elements of the story individually, but not how they came together as a whole. Overall, it seemed like most of us enjoyed the book, though two members were absent from the discussion this time around.

Next month is my selection, When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, and one of our members has already finished it and is itching for discussion.

About the Author:

Brian Selznick is the illustrator of “Frindle” by Andrew Clements, “Riding Freedom” and “Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride,” both by Pam Munoz Ryan; as well as his own book “The Houdini Box,” winner of the 1993 Texas Bluebonnet Award. Mr. Selznick lives in Brooklyn, New York.


This is my 47th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.


  1. First off, I think it’s great that The Girl is an official member of the club and she picked a great book for discussion. I read in the comments the mention of her starting her own blog. I think the idea is great. The only reservation I’d have (as a mom) would be to keep it as anonymous as possible. That could be hard later if she chooses to interact with her readers. Or.. you can have the comment notifications go to you and then you can screen them (a lot of work).

    • I think Anna is on the fence about her starting a blog. The Girl wants to, but I think Anna wants her to hold off, and yes…there would be some monitoring system for comments…at least I would think so. But I’m sure they will let us know when it happens, or if.

  2. I loved this book and I think it’s awesome that The Girl picked this for Book Club!

    • I liked it, but really thought that some of the drawings could have been spread out more…rather than the immediate back and forth. It kind of made it more obvious for some of the turning points in the story. I think kids are smarter than that.

  3. I thought we had a great discussion and will be posting our thoughts later this week. I am afraid I am the one resistant to The Girl starting her own blog; I think she’s still a bit young. We’ll see how much longer I can resist her demands lol. I can’t believe my husband already finished the next book! I am looking forward to reading it myself.

    • I think The Girl would be fine with a blog, though it would likely require vigilance on your part. 🙂 I can’t wait for the next book club, and not because it’s my pick…but because I get to leave the house for adult time.

  4. I really enjoyed this book and the way the two stories were woven together. I love that your book club has incorporated its youngest member and that she led the discussion. The Girl is going to need her own blog soon!

    • I keep wondering when The Girl will have her own blog. The Girl did a great job with her discussion and she prepared a page long list of questions for the meeting.