Brian Selznick won the 2008 Caldecott Medal for his innovative 533-page picture book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which much of the tale is told in full-page black-and-white drawings that weave in and out of the story told in prose. Wonderstruck (2011) followed, with a similar format—460 pages of original artwork intertwined with two independent stories set 50 years apart.
The Marvels opens with 400 pages of drawings telling the story of the fictional Royal Theatre in London and five generations of a family of actors. In 1766, young Billy Marvel runs off to sea, stowing away on the Kraken, the ship on which his older brother Marcus is a sailor. The ship sinks, and Billy is the sole survivor, along with his dog, Tar. Making his way eventually to London, Billy gets involved with the Royal Theater and becomes the progenitor of several generations of Marvels, great stage actors all.
The story of the Marvels, related in black-and-white drawings, gives way to a seemingly unrelated prose story of young Joseph Jervis, who runs away from boarding school in 1990 and comes to dark and snowy London in search of his friend Blink and his estranged uncle, Albert Nightingale. His uncle lives in a magical house with smells of food and fireplaces, lighted candles, muffled voices, tables set with dirty plates and half-empty goblets and napkins carefully placed on the floor.
Unlike Selznick’s previous volumes, there is no weaving of pictures and text here, but the stories do connect, and the mysteries, large and small, will absorb readers young and old. Inspired by a living house museum in London known as Dennis Severs’ house, The Marvels is an enchanting tale of a young boy finding a home and a home finding a future.