Georges Méliès was a magician who became a legendary early French filmmaker, the first to use complex special effects to tell imaginative stories that did not reflect the real world. He then lost nearly everything, including his films and his automata, due to business and financial reverses and the development of film beyond where he had taken it. This is a fictional story of Méliès in his later years, and the young boy who helps to pull him out of his decline.
Hugo Cabret is the son of a clockmaker who runs his own shop, and also works at a local museum, repairing clocks, automata, and other machinery. In the attic of the museum he finds an amazing automaton, a man sitting at desk, holding a pen, poised to write. It's in terrible shape, but he shows it to Hugo, and starts work on repairing it during his spare time at the museum.
When the museum burns and his father dies, and Hugo becomes apprentice to his uncle who maintains the clocks at a Paris train station, the memory of the automaton haunts him. After his uncle disappears, and Hugo is struggling to maintain the clocks on his own, and survive while unable to cash his uncle's paychecks, he finds the automaton in the ruins of the museum, brings it back to his train station living quarters, and begins to work on it himself.
This leads to him meeting the old toymaker running the toy shop in the station, when the toymaker catches him stealing small wind-up toys to use the parts in his repairs.
That encounter is the beginning of a marvelous adventure that uncovers secrets buried for many years--the toymaker's past, what the automaton is poised to create with its pen, and the source of the marvelous images Hugo's father remembered from his boyhood movie-going, and reproduced in the precious notebook Hugo has kept. There's magic and grief and joy and friendship, here, and a whole lot of fun.
I borrowed this book from the library.