My life is marked by so many Harry Potter memories that if you plot them out on a timeline, you would see them spread out through about two-thirds of my life.

I’ve been celebrating the Harry Potter 20th anniversary for two years now (2017 for the UK anniversary, and 2018 for the US anniversary) and the last two years have been no less magical than the moment I read my first Harry Potter book. It’s definitely been a grand adventure, from the Harry Potter pilgrimage that took my friends and I from London to the wilds of Scotland (read: Cursed Child and the House of Minalima, the Warner Brothers London Studio Tour,  and Scotland I will write about for Harry’s birthday this year — come back to read it, please!) down to today’s festivities: a tea party to launch the Harry Potter 20th Anniversary covers by Caldecott award-winning illustrator Brian Selznick.

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Bah, Humbug!


I saw the Christmas Carol movie this weekend, and I have mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand the animation was amazing! Five years has certainly done wonders for 3D performance capture — compared to Zemeckis’ 2004 Polar Express, Christmas Carol looks phenomenal! The musical score (especially Bocelli’s God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) was hauntingly beautiful too.

I’m glad Disney didn’t “cutesify” this movie, but for a holiday flick, it didn’t do much for my holiday spirit, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come  terrified quite a few kids in the audience — a bunch of parents had to take their kids out of the theater because they started screaming and bawling. I think the film lacked the warmth and goodwill that the classic story evoked.

Anyway, this post isn’t the start of my Christmas posts, but it is related to A Christmas Carol.

Continue reading “Bah, Humbug!”


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Book #32 for 2009
After a couple of years of reverently stroking this book every time I saw it at the book store (and bitterly regretting the time I saw a copy at National for P399 and didn’t buy it) I finally have a copy, thanks to my boss and to Scholastic.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret was awarded the 2008 Caldecott Medal, and was the first non-picture book (in the traditional sense) to win this honor. The story is told in over 500 pages of pictures and words, with 284 pages of Selznick’s trademark monochromatic pencil sketches framed in black.

Selznick, writer and illustrator of The Houdini Box, The Boy of A Thousand Faces, The Robot King, and illustrator of over a dozen more books, describes Hugo Cabret as “not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things.”

Hugo Cabret is an orphan who lives in a secret room in the clock tower of a train station in Paris. Because he is neglected (and eventually deserted) by his uncle, the timekeeper at the train station, Hugo learns to steal to survive, and takes over the task of winding the clocks at the station.
Across the station is a small toy shop run by a grumpy old man and an eccentric old man, with a girl whose nose is forever buried in the book. Little does Hugo know that as he ventures out across the street, secrets will unfold as their paths cross.
From cover to cover, I was in awe of this spellbinding book, which flows seamlessly from text into illustrations as it tells its intricate tale. I think this shows the amount of planning Selznick put into the book, with each element deliberate, each serving a purpose towards the advancement of the story.
Compared to The Houdini Box, the illustrations are rougher and darker in Hugo Cabret, but serve well in establishing the cinema noir feel of the story and still showcase Selznick’s mastery of light and darkness. I love how Selznick’s illustrations zoom in and out on the details, and how each drawing leads into another, drawing excitement with each turn of the page, especially during the chase sequences, and when clues to the puzzle are revealed.
I also like how the book is enriched with history, paying tribute to the movie great Georges Melies, as well as book illustrator Remy Charlip. This adds even more dimensions to the book,on top of the overarching mystery, but Selznick manages to tie it all in very well.
And I have to point this out — because I wanna throw around some bookspeak I learned last Saturday — the book is exquisitely made — heavy grade paper, stitched section by section, and hollowback with a real headband!

I am sad, though, that I read this book after The Arrival, because had I read Hugo Cabret first, I would have enjoyed the book more . Since the book is hugely plot-driven, I felt it was a bit lacking in depth and character development; a bit more introspection from Hugo’s character would have placed the two books on a more even plane.

Despite that small sentiment on my part, I still give full marks for the book for breaking new ground in books for young readers, especially in illustrated novels. Selznick is definitely in the hall of fame in my bookshelf, and I look forward to collecting more of his works.


My copy: hardcover

My rating 5/5


The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick
Book #13 for 2008
Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi

By sheer chance, I now have two Houdini books in my possession, both from Book Sale, and although I read them a few months apart, I thought they’d go together nicely in a review.

Last year I found the hardbound Houdini: The Handcuff King at the Glorietta branch, in excellent condition, for about P170. It’s a graphic novel presented by the Center for Cartoon Studies, America’s premiere cartooning school.

And then, a few months later, en route to a Christmas party in December, we happened to make a stop (bathroom break) at Cherry Foodarama, where there was a tiny book sale booth, and there I found The Houdini Box, for P60.

While both books are about the famous escape artist, Houdini: The Handcuff King is biographical, while The Houdini Box is about a boy who idolizes Houdini.

I like both books because they offer a rich visual experience.

Houdini: The Handcuff King is a graphic novel, in vintage style, done in a monochromatic pen and ink, tinged with blue shadows. I like the way the visual narrative plays out, as well as the interesting perspectives the panels take on — of course, since it’s a CCS publication, they know what they’re doing.

I also like the back portion of the book, where key details of the novel are discussed, shedding light on their context: Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1908; locks of the time and how Houdini picked them; Bess Rahner and Harry Houdini’s love story; the hat-wearing American society; advertising and journalism in 1908; anti-semitism; public address systems and American college rivalry.

The CCS ad on the back page is great too, visually outlining the cartooning process from idea to production.

The Houdini Box, although not strictly about Houdini, has a charm of its own. The story is about Victor, a boy who idolizes Houdini. When he runs into Houdini at a train station, he begs the escape artist to teach him his secrets, and the answer comes a few weeks later, in the form of a mysterious box. The story is short, funny, and engaging, and captures the magic of Houdini.

The Houdini Box comes before the Caldecott-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but it is clear that Brian Selznick has his own magic in storytelling. His trademark pencil drawings come alive on the page, and his skewed proportions add character to the art.

Houdini is one of the most interesting personalities of the 20th century, and both books certainly do him justice.

My copy: The Houdini Box, trade paperback; Houdini the Handcuff King, hardcover

My rating: The Houdini Box, 5/5 star; Houdini the Handcuff King, 5/5 stars