When the scheduled lineup of films started rolling on May 18 at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, author-illustrator—and now screenwriter—Brian Selznick was in attendance. He wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of his bestselling 2011 novel Wonderstruck and was on hand for its premiere. The film is directed by Todd Haynes and after its first run today, an early review from the Hollywood Reporter called it “an enthralling adaptation,” noting that it “captures the ingenious engineering of the book with all its symmetries.” Though Wonderstruck doesn’t hit the big screen in the U.S. until October 20, the first buzz signals it will be worth the wait. And as a bonus, Scholastic has just announced—and revealed exclusively here—that it will publish the Wonderstruck Movie Scrapbook on October 28.
Just before leaving for France, Selznick shared some thoughts on what this film project and the accompanying book mean to him. “I’ve been a fan of Todd Haynes’s since his first movie Poison, in 1991,” Selznick said. “That was the same year my first book The Houdini Box was published, and I’ve followed, and loved, his work ever since.” It was Selznick’s friend Sandy Powell, the costume designer for the movie Hugo and many other movies, including three of Haynes’s works, who suggested that he would be the perfect director for Wonderstruck.
“I wrote the screenplay at night while I was illustrating my book The Marvels during the day,” he said, “getting advice from John Logan who had written the screenplay for Hugo and who had agreed to take me under his wing.” Logan coached him on which computer program to use (Final Draft) and from there, Selznick said, “The biggest challenge had to do with the fact that in the book one story is told with words and a second story is told with pictures. These two stories, set 50 years apart, weave back and forth until they come together at the end.” Readers will remember that the story in pictures is told from the point of view of a Deaf girl named Rose. “I made that choice because I’d seen a documentary about Deaf culture, and someone said that Deaf culture is a visual culture,” he recalled. “I wondered if I could capture some of that visual experience in the book.”
“I finally struck on the idea to film Rose’s story in black and white and silence,” Selznick continued, “while the other story, about a boy named Ben in 1977, would look like a ’70s movie, in full color, perhaps starting out like the landscapes of Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller and then becoming something like a children’s version of Mean Streets, Scorsese’s 1973 movie, once Ben arrives in New York for the first time. These two styles of filmmaking would contrast nicely with each other, and I could weave them back and forth just like in the book.” In addition, he said, “I was able to write into the screenplay how sound and silence and music could all be used to further the story.” Once the screenplay was completed, Powell gave it to Haynes. “I was so thrilled when he said yes,” said Selznick.”
The idea for the movie scrapbook was born out of Selznick’s passion for the filmmaking and screenwriting process. According to his longtime editor at Scholastic, Tracy Mack, Selznick’s enthusiasm was contagious. “He shared every detail with us about being on set and what it was like being part of the movie, and we got to live it vicariously through him when he’d come to the office and relate those behind-the-scenes stories,” she said. “He felt so excited about it that he wanted to share everything he’d learned and all the excitement about making the movie with kids, with his readership.” The title is a reversible paperback book which includes film stills from the movie (both black-and-white and color photographs), behind-the-scenes-photos, narrative featuring Selznick’s experiences on set and his interviews with the actors and filmmakers, as well as an American Sign Language alphabet chart hand-drawn by Selznick. Aimed at ages nine and up, the book will retail for $9.99.
Putting the book together—and it’s not entirely finished—was quite an undertaking. “30,000 on-set photographs were taken by a wonderful photographer named Mary Cybulski, and I was able to go through all of them and choose the best ones to show how a movie gets made,” he said. “I was able to interview the key players, from the director to the 12-year-old Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds who had never appeared in a movie before. And because the movie is told in two parts, one in 1927 and one in 1977, I thought it would be fun to divide the book in half and show how each time period was recreated by the filmmakers.”
Selznick “had a clear vision for this right away,” said Mack. “In some ways it derived from the book itself,” she posited. “Rose keeps a scrapbook; scrapbooking was very popular back then. Brian already knew he wanted the 1920s section to look like a scrapbook from the 1920s. When you enter this part of the book you will feel transported into that time period.” For the 70s section, Selznick aimed for something popular from that time that would appeal to kids, and he settled on Dynamite magazine. “That magazine had a scrapbook feel,” said Mack, “very full but really browsable pages. It’s completely groovy with lots of ’70s colors, and the layout will knock you out. You’ll feel like you’ve now entered the 1970s.”
In addition to learning more about the moviemaking process, Mack believes there are other aspects of the Movie Scrapbook that make it different from other tie-in style titles. “One of the really special things that came out of this experience is that there are parts of the scrapbook that are incredibly moving to me,” she said. “It was really important to Brian when they were casting the film that they hire Deaf actors. It wasn’t just Millicent Simmonds [who plays Rose], but there are quite a few Deaf actors in the movie that play small roles. Some of them play hearing people, which is amazing. There are moments in the scrapbook where you learn about the behind the scenes friendship that developed between Millie and Oakes Fegley and Jaden Michael, who play Ben and Jamie respectively, and how there was a sign language teacher on set, who taught the actors and crew. There’s this beautiful story that emerges about a multicultural and multilingual set, so there are lots of really tender parts.”
As both the film and Movie Scrapbook versions of Wonderstruck head out into the world, Mack said, “It’s such an amazing moment for Brian Selznick to be at Cannes, for the book and the screenplay he wrote. And such an amazing moment for children’s books! They are having a light shined on them at the premier film festival in the world.”
As if watching Selznick have a moment on the red carpet and in the spotlight with Wonderstruck weren’t excitement enough for fans, the author-illustrator has already finished a new project—in an entirely new format—for next year. Publishers Weekly has the exclusive first look at Baby Monkey, Private Eye, a blend of picture book, beginning reader, and graphic novel for ages 4–8, which will be published by Scholastic in March 2018. The title is a collaboration between Selznick and his husband, writer and professor David Serlin.
“It started with the title and the character,” said Mack. “Brian and David are two insanely funny and creative people,” she recalled. The pair were cooking up stories about a character named Baby Monkey, Private Eye. “Brian shared that with me,” said Mack. “It was just for fun, something we were doing to entertain each other.” Selznick had even created a clay sculpture of a baby monkey and sent it to Mack. “I just found it hilarious,” she said. “I told him ‘this is a book.’ ” Though Selznick was unsure at the outset, Mack encouraged him to pursue the idea. “In typical Brian fashion I soon had a text and one of his classic thumbnail dummies, maybe two inches by three inches tall,” she said, “along with sketches, and five episodes where Baby Monkey is solving cases. The whole thing is so ridiculous and funny and charming.” When new sketches came into the office, Mack noted, “We were just falling over, they were so cute.”
As some of Selznick’s work is quite serious, “to see this lighter, funnier, warm, charming, adorable side to him was so much fun,” Mack said of her author. Baby Monkey, Private Eye is for a younger audience than Sezlnick usually writes for. “It’s a lovely cozy read-aloud for parent and child, or story hour,” Mack said. “There are always surprises when you turn the page—there’s a little bit of mystery for the kids,” Mack said. The treats for adults come in the form of references to art, music, theater film, dance, even puppetry. “And if they miss anything, there’s a key in the back so they can go back and check themselves, do some parent sleuthing,” Mack said. The book contains just over 50 words, but 120 drawings. “In many ways, it’s a classic Selznick,” she said.
Mack hopes that Baby Monkey is classic Selznick in another way, too. “The way that The Invention of Hugo Cabret opened up what a middle grade book could be and opened up the playing field for everyone, it became the gateway to reading for scores of reluctant readers,” she said. “We had so many letters from kids and parents and teachers, saying that this made their child, or a child they knew, a reader. That was very powerful and moving for both Brian and me, and I remember asking him at some point, ‘Could you do this younger? Could you make this the gateway to reading for a child who’s just learning to read?’ ”
Mack saw that very gateway open in her own home. “My child was in kindergarten when she read an early stage of the book aloud to her brother and to me,” she recalled. “Her brother turned to me and asked, ‘Mom, how long is this book?’ And I told him it was 192 pages and he looked at his sister and said, ‘You just read an almost 200 page book!’ She was just lit from inside.”
On the visual side, Mack believes that Baby Monkey features “some of Brian’s best drawing ever. He’s clearly at the top of his game. Every time I think he’s reached the apex he pushes the bar a little higher. He loves to give himself a new challenge.” And luckily for readers, that means new books.