Meet gifted storyteller Brian Selznick at the intersection of pictures and words

Like all successful authors, Brian Selznick is a gifted storyteller. But it’s his dexterity in several different mediums that has made him a celebrity in the world of children’s literature.


His talent as a sketch artist is what launched his initial career as an illustrator for other authors’ books. Selznick, who serves on UC San Diego Extension’s advisory board for the Children’s Book Writing Certificate, also has a cinematographer’s gift for using visuals to create mood and atmosphere. He also happens to be a great writer with a fondness for spare language and a novelist’s eye for the telling detail.

His talents and background were very helpful in crafting the curriculum for Extension’s children’s book writing certificate, which is designed to provide a solid foundation for what is needed to become a published author.

Selznick’s skills also are what made him famous with his 2007 book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," a New York Times bestseller that was adapted into the Oscar-winning film Hugo by Martin Scorsese.

He uses all the same techniques in his latest book "The Marvels," which, like his two other most recent works, he both writes and illustrates. Selznick, who lives in both San Diego and New York City, has been getting rave reviews for "The Marvels," which was published in September.

As with all the best children’s stories, from the Pixar movies to the Harry Potter books, Selznick’s stories have the power to transfix not just children but adults. Selznick’s characters are usually girls and boys thrust out into the world on their own, typically as runaways and/or orphans. They are forced to live in the shadows while embarking on sprawling searches for their family histories, their identities and their places in the world. They tend to be solitary and resourceful survivors.

Selznick has described "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" as “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” The same is true of his two books since "Hugo – Wonderstruck" (published in 2011) and now "The Marvels."

He uses his black-and-white pencil sketches to create the equivalent of film sequences – for instance, the slow close-up in which a sketch of a person is followed by a sketch of the same person at a closer angle, then a closer angle, until the full facial expression is revealed. The New York Times once compared his work to “a silent film on paper.”

His images can be haunting (a scurrying young girl clutching a sign that reads “Help me”) or full of grandeur and hope (a boy and girl standing together at the top of a clock tower, staring out at Paris.)

Selznick once told an interviewer that as a child he “loved magic but I was an extremely bad magician. I remember very specifically my fingers not being able to do what I wanted them to do. When it came to building models or doing very fine things with my fingers, I remember the frustration of not being able to do that.”

But he soon discovered his true gifts of drawing and writing. Lucky for him, and for us.

Brian Selznick shared his gifts in person at a book signing for "The Marvels" at Warwick’s in La Jolla at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. To find out more, please visit

Posted: 10/29/2015 12:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments
Filed under: Arts, Certificate, Childrens-book-writing-certificate, Writing

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