After creatively meshing words and art in his Caldecott-winning The Adventures of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick offers a new take on his multidimensional storytelling technique in The Marvels (Scholastic Press, Sept.), which balances two stories. Relayed exclusively through pictures, the first opens in 1766 and follows five generations of a legendary family of actors, beginning with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck. The second story, told in words, centers on a boy in 1990 who runs away from school to his estranged uncle's enigmatic London house, where he pieces together many mysteries.
Selznick, who has long been intrigued by the history of London theater and was drawn to the idea of creating a multi-generational story about an acting family, says that The Marvels also sprang from the lessons he learned from his earlier book projects. "Hugo came out of novels and picture books I'd done up to that point, and for Wonderstruck I used what I'd learned from Hugo," he explains. "The challenge with The Marvels was to take it one step further and figure out what new way the pictures could be used and could mean—and to come up with a whole new structure."
And how do The Marvels' dual stories connect? Selznick's not telling. "One of the things I enjoy when creating a story is the space that's left in the narrative for the reader to piece together," he says. "For me, that's exciting—and I think it makes the story feel like it's yours when you're asked to do some work. As readers, we don't know how the boy in the prose part fits into the whole story, but we do know a bit more than he does. Hopefully, readers will recognize in the prose story things they've seen in the pictures hundreds of pages earlier."
A onetime Manhattan bookseller, Selznick has a particular fondness for BEA—and the bookselling business. "I worked at Eeyore's Books for Children on the Upper West Side for a few years after school, and I feel as though I learned everything I know about children's books there," he says. "In fact, my first book, The Houdini Box, was published when I was still working at the store."
The author looks forward to giving booksellers an early peek at his latest novel this afternoon, 1:30–2:30 p.m., when he autographs ARCs of The Marvels at a ticketed signing at Table 1. "Part of me is still shocked when someone tells me they liked one of my books," he claims. "But it's always satisfying, thrilling—and very good to hear!"
This article appeared in the May 28, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.