After creatively meshing words and art in his Caldecott-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick presents a new take on his multi-dimensioned storytelling technique in The Marvels, which balances two stories. Relayed exclusively through pictures, the first story opens in 1766 and follows five generations of a legendary family of actors, beginning with young 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. Scholastic Press will publish the novel on September 15 with a 350,000-copy first printing.
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 keeping that under wraps. “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 remarks. “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.”
Tracy Mack, executive editor of Scholastic Press and Selznick’s longtime editor, praises the author for “taking everything he’s done before to new heights” in The Marvels. “After Wonderstruck, I thought, ‘What will Brian do next?’ and I was so blown away when I saw the structure of this story,” she says. “Here, the pictures serve as a collective memory, and when you enter the prose story, the deeper into it you get you uncover more and more clues to how the two stories are related, and the ways the visuals and words function together. Brian is such a visionary and does so much more than tell a story on paper. He pushes the boundaries of what a reading experience can be.”
Creativity Begets Creativity
Selznick’s inventiveness clearly inspires the same in others. A number of the author’s appearances across the country will be hosted by independent bookstores who are – quite literally – staging events that incorporate the seafaring and thespian themes of the novel. Calling booksellers’ overwhelmingly enthusiastic and inventive response to Selznick’s upcoming tour for The Marvels “incredible,” Mack adds, “There is something about Brian’s work and the way he is constantly challenging himself to do something better than he’s done before that inspires others to up the ante.”
The Marvels’ launch party will be held on September 15 at Books of Wonder in Manhattan, where Selznick will do an encore performance of the multimedia presentation he gave at BEA, which included a live performance of an original score based on the book. Store owner Peter Glassman has launched a pre-order campaign for the book, which entails giveaways (with purchase of a signed book) of prints from the books. The number of different prints the store creates will increase as the number of pre-orders grows, creating an incentive for fans to spread word of the book, and the offer, via social media. Calling the pictures and the writing in The Marvels “nothing short of spectacular,” Glassman advises readers “to have a box of tissues nearby – you will be moved to tears.”
On some stops, Selznick will appear in historic theaters akin to those where the fictional Marvels themselves performed. At an event hosted by Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., Selznick will appear at the Granite Theatre in nearby Westerly, R.I., which dates to the 1840s and is architecturally reminiscent of London’s Globe Theatre, featured in The Marvels.
Elissa Englund, the store’s event coordinator, explained that she called the theater after children’s book buyer Kelsy April noticed the similarity between the building and the Globe as rendered by Selznick. “Luckily, the theater was free the day we wanted it, so we booked it and will have Shakespearean actors milling about before the author’s appearance, warming up the crowd,” she says. Attendees will move on to a book signing at the local public library after Selznick’s performance.
At Book People, Topher Bradfield is heading up a team of staffers designing a Marvels –inspired set for Selznick’s appearance at the Westlake Performing Arts Center in Austin, Tex. The preliminary vision is for a set featuring the bow of a boat (as seen on the novel’s cover), before a series of screens displaying crashing waves, creatures from the deep, and other elements that draw from the book. The plan is to employ projectors, lighting, and screens to create the illusion of motion. Professional actors in historical garb will pose for photos with attendees, as well as entertain them from the stage before Selznick’s presentation.
And what are the author’s post-tour plans? “I have a couple of ideas for my next book that I’m excited about, but after a giant project like this, which I worked on for three years, I need some down time,” he says. “I am very happy with how The Marvels turned out. Not until I saw the ARC did I actually see the pictures and words together. I made lots of dummies along the way, but I always hold my breath, because you never know until you see how it all fits together. In the end, it was a very nice thing to see.”
The Marvels by Brian Selznick. Scholastic Press, $32.99 Sept. ISBN 0-978-0-545-44868-0