Response to Wonderstruck by Brain Selznick due March 29, 2012


Connections to other texts:    The book was reminiscent of Ivan in that it took some real events and created a fictional story for it.  At first glance this book gives the false impression that the reader would not have to engage in deep reading because it contains so many illustrations.  Wonderstruck requires the reader to think deeply about the connections of the characters to the museum, each other and how it all intertwines.

The connection that I have with this book is my love of museums and history.  I really enjoy being able to go and visit and see things that I may never experience otherwise.  I am often in awe that some of those things exist after decades or even hundreds of years. One spring my sister and I went to Washington D.C. and visited the Smithsonian Institute.  I thought of this visit when I read Wonderstruck.

Reflections/experience:  The illustrations in this book are beyond awesome.  As I look back and re-read portions and especially go back and study the illustrations again, they make more sense and “tell” more information than during my first read.  One really interesting picture were the illustrations of Walter driving Rose home and the marquees read messages of hope like “Safe at Last”, “The Road to Tomorrow”, “Rescue Brand dental cream”, and “Brothers Tonic”.

When my family saw the huge book and how quickly I was able to read it they were really impressed at first and then I let them see how much of the book was illustrations and not all text.  My daughter picked up the book and her first reaction was, “Man, I thought this book must be by the same author that wrote Hugo Cabret.  I really loved that story.”  I have never read that story but I may consider it after I have read Wonderstruck.

The most obvious difference between this book and other traditional novels is that it tells two different stories through both illustrations and text until they intertwine into one story.  Rose’s story is told through the illustrations and Ben’s story through words.  I can usually figure out a book or movie after a little bit into it because often books and movies have similar plots, just different characters, but Wonderstruck surprised me.  My first reaction to the book on the first night of class was that it would take me at least a week to read it.  It actually took me about 2 hours, although I have gone back and re-read and studied the illustrations more.  The way the pictures told the story also kept me reading on.  When I first started reading, I wondered what in the world did these two seemingly totally un-related characters have in common, especially since there was such a time span of fifty years between them.  I also wondered if somehow the two children stories would overlap because at times the pictures seemed to almost pick up where Ben’s story leaves off.

The book starts with the illustrations of wolves chasing something. The illustrations demonstrate how the wolves are getting closer and closer.  Then the story turns to Gunflint, Minnesota, where Ben is once again dreaming that the wolves are chasing him.  Since Rose’s story is told through illustrations, is Rose looking at the diorama at the museum or is that just Ben’s reoccurring wolf dream?  The book begins by telling the story of Ben, a boy who is deaf in one ear and who has recently become an orphan because of his mother’s car accident and the fact that he had never known his father.  He is searching to feel like he belongs and fits in somewhere. He has had to move in with his aunt and uncle’s house, which is a house eighty three steps away from the house he lived in with his mother, and share a room with a crude, unsympathetic cousin.  His only comfort comes from a wooden box full of things he has collected over the years and finds solace and comfort in his familiarity and memories of his collection.

One night before a huge storm, he decides to visit his mother’s house when he sees the light on in a bedroom window.  He walks in on his cousin dressed in his mother’s clothes, smoking.  Startled, she apologizes to Ben and leaves him to explore his mother’s things she has left behind.  During his exploring, he finds the book Wonderstruck, which is a book about the history of museums.  Inside the book he finds the inscription, for Danny, Love M.  This sparks Ben’s curiosity and begins his quest to find out not only who Danny and M are, but to find out if Danny was his father.  Ben begins to read Wonderstruck by flashlight in his mother’s bed because the storm knocked out the power.  It was during him reading that Ben finds a bookmark with the name, Kincaid’s bookstore with a phone number on it.  Ben decides to try to call this number because he thinks it may be his father, but when he uses the phone, lightening runs in on it and deafens his other ear.  Ben was put in the hospital and when he got out he decided to run away.

Through Rose’s pictures we see something similar happening to her.  She is in pursuit of finding her mother who is a famous actress who wants nothing to do with her.  Rose is being forced to learn to read lips by her tutor, but she has no interest in this activity.  One day she receives a post card from her brother in New York City and decides to run away to his house after her mother cruelly rejects her when Rose came to visit her while she was rehearsing.  The reader would like to think that Rose’s mother is truly concerned that something bad will happen to Rose in New York because she cannot hear, but I felt that her mother is heartless and just did not want Rose.

Both Ben and Rose end up at the American Museum of Natural History and find someone who cares enough to help them.  Rose finds her brother Walter and fifty years later Ben finds his friend Jamie.  Eventually, Ben finds the bookstore named Kincaid with the help of his friend, Jamie.  It is here when Ben and Rose’s path become one again.  Rose takes Ben to the museum where they both find the answers and family they have been searching for for so long.

The mood of the book was not dark and sinister, but longing to fit in and lonely.  I just wanted to reach out and hug Ben and make him feel better.  I also wondered about Ben’s aunt and uncle.  Where they worried or relieved that he was missing?  It did not seem like anyone was trying very hard to find him, but then again, Selznick did not really write from the aunt and uncle’s point of view.  Another thing I wanted to ask was how could Rose’s mother be so mean to her?  What was so scandalous about her life that was mentioned in the newspaper clippings?  Did she do something to Rose to make her become deaf?

Educational connections:   There could be several classroom connections for this book.  First of all there is the broad topic of museums, what are they, who builds them, and why?  Are they important?  Do we all have cabinets of wonder?  The class could either take a physical field trip to a museum or there are plenty of virtual museums to discover, even though they are not quite as awesome as walking under a huge dinosaur skeleton.

Another topic that would fit in nicely with the 3rd grade SCOS for science, (at least for this year) would be Goal 3: The learner will make observations and use appropriate technology to build an understanding of the earth/moon/sun system. The class could investigate the stars that Ben was so interested in as well as meteorites that Ben talks about that created Gunflint.  Other scientific connections could also be investigating the science of electricity and lightening.  Could what happen to Ben really happen in real life?

There is also the issue of deafness that could be discussed and explored.   What is it?  What causes it?  How do people who are unable to hear talk and communicate? How dangerous was Ben’s trip into a city he had never been to and knew no one there?

Other connections could be with students who have lost a parent, either though death or divorce.

I think this story is better suited for upper grades. The only grade I would use this book for would be 3rd grade and older.   I feel like my 3rd grade students first reaction would be intimidation by the size of the book.   Even though I do not have e-readers in my classroom, this book may be a good one to read with this device.   I would introduce the book my exploring the following website: This website is a virtual museum tour of the Natural Museum of History where the story takes place.  The tour is narrated by Brian Selznick and explores all the places that Ben visits in the book.  This would be a good preview and help the students visualize as they read.

This story is a truly a work of art in itself.  The illustrations are unbelievable, especially since there is no color.  I think I learned more going back over the pictures after I read the entire book.  They made more sense after I read the text and helped bring an understanding to the whole story.


2 responses »

  1. Lori,

    I agree that this book was a work of art in itself. As you stated, the illustrations in this book were unbelievable. There was so much detail in each illustration that I did not even pay attention to the book’s lack of color, it was not really needed. The title, Wonderstruck had significance within the story but I also felt that the title had a strong correlation to the reader. Almost as if Brian Selznick knew that his readers would “wonder” quite often as they began to read his book. I know that I was “struck” at the way the two stories folded nicely together toward the end of the book. It is such a perfect title for such a refreshingly usual book.

    – Stacy Durham

  2. Lori,
    I think you’re right on the mark saying that students would initially think that a book containing so many illustrations would not require any deep thinking on their part. I think that’s part of what’s so great about Wonderstruck…it gets them hooked and before they know it they’re subconsciously using deep reading skills. The use of pictures forces the reader to make connections and ask questions as opposed to just superficially reading the text.

    In my suggestions for use in the classroom, I mentioned the need to ensure students know how to “read” illustrations. Too often I think illustrations are skimmed over and deemed unimportant by readers. I was really impressed by how you picked up on the billboard advertisements in New York City once Rose had been reunited with her brother. I had not noticed the significance before, but I looked back after reading your post and also noticed signs stating “Home” and “Lucky Girl” and “Victory.” Thanks so much for pointing this out! This goes to show we can always be learning from each other (and our students).

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