An exhibit at the Queens Museum of Art highlights “Wonderstruck,” a new book by children’s author and illustrator Brian Selznick, which prominently features both the museum and its beloved Panorama of the City of New York.
“Wonderstruck” is Selznick’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” a Caldecott Medal winner which has been adapted into the film “Hugo” by Martin Scorsese, now in theaters and garnering rave reviews. Selznick described “Wonderstruck” (Scholastic) as his “valentine to New York City.”
“It really is a fantastic story,” said David Strauss, director of external affairs at the Queens Museum of Art. The exhibit, Strauss explained, is both about how Selznick recreated the Panorama, which along with Flushing Meadows Park and the Unisphere, appears in the book’s final pages, and about how the Panorama itself was built for the 1964 World’s Fair.
“Wonderstruck” tells two stories: one set in 1977 about a boy named Ben who runs away to New York City to try and find his father; the other set 50 years earlier, about a deaf girl named Rose who runs away to the city on a quest of her own.
Selznick employs a surprisingly effective formal device to tell his twin narratives: Ben’s story is told entirely with words, while Rose’s is conveyed through Selznick’s black-and-white drawings. In its concluding pages, the relationship between Ben’s and Rose’s storylines is revealed.
“I knew the Panorama would be the right place to end the story,” Selznick said. “I was always intrigued by the Panorama and saw it for the first time a couple years ago. I was spellbound.”
The Queens Museum of Art’s exhibit features 19 original graphite drawings that appear in the book; sketches Selznick made while researching the Panorama; eight book “dummies”— outlines of book pages that help a writer and publisher plot out a book’s development — and documentary materials relating to the Panorama itself.
To draw the famed model of the city, Selznick visited the museum a number of times and was given the chance to “see the Panorama from every conceivable angle,” Strauss explained. Selznick was even allowed onto the model floor — visitors are normally only allowed on an elevated walkway — and also saw the 9,335-square-foot miniature from a bird’s- eye view by being hoisted above it.
It’s this kind of meticulous research that makes “Wonderstruck” a joy to read and look at, as not only the Queens Museum of Art and the Panorama, but a number of other city locations, including the Museum of Natural History and Times Square in the 1920s, come to life on his pages.
˝elznick, who grew up in New Jersey and now splits his time between Brooklyn and San Diego, explained how the Museum of Natural History was one of his favorite places to visit as a child. He even knew someone who worked at the museum, so that much like his character, Ben — who hides out in the museum when he first arrives in New York — Selznick had the rare opportunity to get a glimpse of its inner workings, secret rooms and hidden corners.
Selznick is also a huge fan of film, which is evident in the almost cinematic quality of his illustrations.
He said that he has tried to find “a way of combining what the cinema can do with panning, zooming in and out, and edits, and what a picture book can do with page turns.”
The Queens Museum of Art could not be more thrilled to have helped Selznick bring a part of his book to life.
“Selznick is madly creative, a joy to work with and has a magnetic appeal to readers of all ages,” wrote Louise Weinberg, the museum’s collection manager and the exhibit’s curator, in an email. “He brings what seems to be the entire universe into each book.”
‘Wonderstruck in the Panorama’
When: Through Jan. 15, Wed.-Sun., noon-6 p.m.
Where: New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Park
Tickets: $5 suggested donation