Title: THE MARVELS
Author: Brian Selznick
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Two seemingly unrelated stories–one in words, the other in pictures–come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.
This is one of those books that I was looking forward to it coming out, and then it came out and my TBR list was so huge, it somehow got lost. But I am so glad I found it again, even if it was a year later.
Being a huge Brian Selznick fan, I wasn’t surprised that I loved this book. The way he made a name for himself doing what he loved and kind of inventing a new format for himself was amazing.
Selznick’s talent for using a picture to say a thousand words is truly enchanting. Even my younger boys with the shortest attention spans in the history of ever, will spend a lot of time examining each page and can tell me exactly what is going on in the story as they turn the pages. But they get to decipher the story in their own words with their unique thought processes and imaginations going into it, and that is what is so special about this.
Yes, the pictures show the history of the Marvels family and their rise to fame and the falls that also happen along the way, but each reader gets to put the words to it on their own and apply their own emotions and turn the page when they are done, not when the words tell them to.
Which isn’t a bad thing, either. I love words on a page, or I wouldn’t read them daily and talk about them almost as often. And Selznick excels at the prose portion of his story as well. The whole book, which is extremely large, but so beautiful (the gilded edges of the pages!), is full of images and words that help the reader to FEEL the story. We only know the brother for a few pages at the beginning but we are crushed when his brother buries him and we see the driftwood angel wings at the sides of his grave.
When we get to the prose section, we are in 1990 following a child, Joseph, as he runs away from boarding school and goes to spend some time with his uncle. Of course, the house his uncle lives in is steeped in history and there’s some sort of mystery begging to be solved. There’s a few mysteries actually, with a missing friend and the Marvels family as well. And Uncle Albert is eccentric and intriguing.
In the end, the thrilling conclusion returns to drawings, but stays in the present time and comes together in a tragic but magical and satisfying way that answers all of the questions Selznick presented.
The fact this story is partially founded on a true story of Dennis Severs is what makes it utterly irresistible. Dennis Severs is an American who moved to London and eventually bought an old home at 18 Folgate Street in London’s East End and turned it into a 3D story/museum filled with the lives of a fictional family he created named the Jervises. Severs passed away and the home is now owned by a preservation trust, but is open to visitors.
Uncle Albert’s character is based on Severs’ real life story, but the story of the Marvels is a fictional story, only inspired by Severs and his life.
This story promotes a love of art, books, and magic and is also LGBT friendly in a way that is not forced or over the top, just fits into the story perfectly.
For more middle grade reading recommendations go to Shannon Messenger’s Blog for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.