Explore the Wonderstruck Museum and find out what links Ben and Rose

Who is this book for?

Shared reading at storytime - 8 years+

Reading independently - 10 years+

About this book

This doorstep of a book hides an exciting secret. It’s actually two stories, set fifty years apart, and much of it is illustrated. One tale is told via conventional text, but the other unfolds entirely in black-and-white line drawings, one per spread, with rapid page-turns giving the impression of a silent film – an appropriate medium for a book in which absence of sound is such a major theme.

Rose’s mother Lillian is a filmstar whose career has taken her a long way from the house where Rose is dreaming of escape. It’s 1927 and the talkies are transforming cinema. Determined to gain her independence, Rose sets off to find her mother, who’s starring in a New York show. But Rose is deaf, and Lillian isn’t pleased to see her out alone... 

Rose watching a silent film, 1927

Fifty years later, Ben is also making his way into the same city, searching for a father that he’s never known. Following an accident, he, too, is deaf – the first of many connections between himself and Rose. Both children’s stories take them to the same museum, where their paths weave in and out until the years between them seem to be collapsing. At last their stories become one and we discover the profoundly satisfying way in which they’re linked. 

Even though we know Selznick planned every aspect of this book’s construction, these clues and connections still strike us as wonderful coincidences. Rose and Ben share more than their DNA – there are objects that link them, too, and the safekeeping and passing-on of memories and meanings is another key theme of this book. Selznick uses the museum as a way of exploring these ideas, which emerge in ways that make sense to children and to which they can relate. 

Accessible, eye-opening and involving, Wonderstruck races along, ensuring we always want to know what happens next. But there are concepts here that set our hearts searching and our minds whirring: ideas about memory and community, about collecting and making sense of evidence, about forging new identities, that help to make this book such a richly satisfying starting point for cross-curricular activities.

Brian Selznick is one of the U.S’s most celebrated creators of children’s books, including The Invention of Hugo Cabret for which he won the 2008 Caldecott Medal. 

The page numbers in the activities refer to Scholastic's hardcover edition published in 2011

Sharing and talking about this book

Discuss children’s experiences of wordless picturebooks. How do they tell their stories? What must readers do to make sense of them? Add some wordless picturebooks to your class library.

Show children Wonderstruck and talk about it. What questions does it raise? What do they think it will be about? 

If you have a visualizer, use it for the illustrated sections as you share this book. If not, adult helpers could show extra copies to small groups. Or gather children closely around you and keep the momentum going as you read by describing the key points in each image but resisting the temptation (where possible!) to discuss them in depth. You can return to individual spreads later, to check out details and compare ideas.

When you’ve finished the whole book, revisit your initial impressions. What do children think of this book now? Did it answer their questions or raise new ones? Did it surprise them in any way?

What do we learn about being deaf from this book? What challenges do Rose and Ben face that hearing people don’t? What can they do or experience that hearing people can’t?

For a History of Deaf Culture and Sign Language on Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck website, visit https://www.wonderstruckthebook.com/essay_deaf-culture.htm 

Rose in New York, 1977

What next? Activities...

Look closely at the marks made by Selznick’s pencils in this book 
Where are the blank spaces? Why are they there? How many different kinds of textures can you spot, and how has Selznick created those effects? How has he shown light and shade?

Investigate the different kinds of lines, shading, crosshatching and other marks you can make with pencils and graphite sticks of varying hardness. Draw an object from life, making it look as real as possible using the techniques you’ve discovered. 

Look at pictures of buildings from around the world and compare with those in your home town. What’s similar and what’s different? Do you have a favourite building? What is it, and why do you like it?

Use pencils to sketch a building from life or from a photograph, making it as accurate as possible. How would you turn your 2D sketch into a 3D model, like Rose? Investigate nets for cubes, cuboids, cylinders and pyramids, using them to make a simple structure, then add details to make your building recognizable.

Rose's model buildings, 1927   Copyright Brian Selznick for Scholastic Press

Construct a realistic or imaginary city using your models. Look down from above and draw sketchmaps. Can you create an accurately-scaled map of your city? 

Observe your buildings from ‘street level’ and draw what you can see. Could you hide objects inside your models, like Rose? They could represent the occupants. Are there stories to be told?

Rose and Ben viewing the Panorama, 1977   Copyright Brian Selznick for Scholastic Press

For information about the Queens Museum of Art Panorama on Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck website visit https://www.wonderstruckthebook.com/essay_panorama.htm

View clips of silent movies and talk about them. What do you know about cinema history? What can you discover?

Look at the pictures showing Daughter of the Storm, a film starring Rose’s mother (see pages 112 onwards). What do these pictures tell us about silent films?

Rose's mother acting in a silent film, 1927      Copyright Brian Selznick for Scholastic Press

Talk about body postures, facial expressions and gestures in the ‘film stills’ shown in this book and have a go at recreating them as freezeframes. Bring them to life, showing what happens next. Alternatively, you could explore the visually-dramatic confrontations between Rose and her mother beginning on page 265.

Rose and her mother, 1927    Copyright Brian Selznick for Scholastic Press


In small groups, tell a story in mime and develop into a performance, using silent-movie-style cards to communicate dialogue. Showback, discuss and revise, then video your movies. Do they need posters? Can you create sound effects or musical accompaniment? 

Extend by reviewing your movies and interviewing their leading ladies/gentlemen. Use to create an edition of Moviestar Magazine (see pages 34-35).

For an essay about The Transition from Silent to Sound Film on Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck website, visit https://www.wonderstruckthebook.com/essay_silent-to-sound.htm 


Research dioramas online and compare with pictures in this book. What is a diorama? How are they made? Can you visit one? 

Read Daniel’s letter on page 451 (and below). What does this tell us about his job as an Exhibition Preparator? What does he expect to do in Gunflint Lake? Why do you think he needs to stay there for two months? 

Daniel's letter dated 1964 

What kind of habitat is Gunflint Lake? Make a list of other habitats and discuss them, then choose one to research. What kind of animals, birds, plants and other living things would you expect to find there? 

Design a diorama of your chosen habitat, annotating your drawings and plans. Using card, fabric and other materials, construct a model diorama in a box or old aquarium.

Write a label and guidebook. Display your diorama together with non-fiction books about the habitat and creatures it depicts.

Page 393 shows a museum label for the Gunflint Lake diorama

Here's a clip from Wonderstruck:The Movie showing a chase sequence set against a backdrop of museum dioramas

What does this book tell us about New York City? What can you discover from other sources?

Locate New York on a world map, then examine a streetmap and compare with a map of your hometown. What’s similar and what’s different?

Taking in all the colours and smells and movements (Ben) felt like he’d fallen over the edge of a waterfallList words and phrases to describe a city street. How do you think Ben and Rose feel when they arrive? What do you think they can see and smell? 

Ben tried to imagine the honking, screaming, screeching soundtrack, but to him it unfolded noiselessly, like a scary movie with the sound turned offUsing your voices, found objects and percussion instruments, create and record a soundtrack for the street scene shown on page 492.

How do we know this isn’t New York in the 1920’s, when Rose was young? What can you find out about the history of New York? The history of your own hometown?

Rose in New York, 1977   Copyright Brian Selznick for Scholastic Press

For information about New York in 1977 on Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck website, visit https://www.wonderstruckthebook.com/essay_newyork.htm 

What would it be like to pick and choose the objects and stories that would go in your own cabinet? How would Ben curate his own life?Use the extracts below to stimulate discussion about cabinets of curiosities and the role of the curator. Visit a local exhibition to discover what has been included, and why. How does a curator decide what to leave out?

Ask children to curate and display an exhibition about themselves, or something that interests them. Or choose a subject as a class and curate a larger exhibition, with small groups working on different elements.  

• Ben reads excerpts from Daniel’s copy of Wonderstruck on pages 97-98

• Walter sells copies of Wonderstruck at the 1927 exhibition on page 395  

• The 1927 Cabinets of Wonders exhibit at the museum on page 402

For A Brief History of Natural History Museums (including references to Cabinets of Curiosity) on Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck website, visit https://www.wonderstruckthebook.com/essay_history_museums.htm

The Cabinet of Curiosities in 1927   Copyright Brian Selznick for Scholastic Press

Look at the picture of Rose as a child on page 46 (and below). What could she be thinking? How would you describe her?
Compare with the portrait of Rose as an older woman on page 503 (and below). What could she be thinking about in this picture? What's similar and what's different?

Using the information given in this book, construct a timeline of Rose’s life.

Rose in 1927    Copyright Brian Selznick for Scholastic Press

Interview a grandparent, older relative or family friend to find out about their childhood. Write a report, including ‘then and now’ photographs, and construct a timeline.

Ask children what they remember about being younger. What will the world be like when they're old? Imagine you’re as old as Rose on page 503. Tell your life story to an imaginary grandchild.... 

Rose in 1977      Copyright Brian Selznick for Scholastic Press

Find pictures of the museum in Rose's story and discuss them. Read the descriptions in Ben's story. What do the 1927 and 1977 museums have in common? How do they differ?

List the objects we can see on display in the museum, or that we’re told about in the text. Can you find ways to group them? For example, rocks, dinosaurs, natural history models...

Based on your findings, what other objects would you expect to find displayed in this museum? 

Can you draw a ‘best-guess’ floorplan of the museum, based on what we’re shown and told in this book? Mark the important locations in Rose and Ben's stories. 

If you'd like to compare Selznick's story setting with the real American Museum of Natural History on which it's based, you can download a floorplan for visitors here

The museum in 1927                         Copyright Brian Selznick for Scholastic Press


Visit a local museum and explore it using a floorplan. Record interesting sights, sounds, smells and information, and make a note of any story ideas that come to you.

Develop an idea for a story set in the museum, using the floorplan to help you decide what will happen where and when. Write your story in words and pictures.

What would it be like to spend the night all alone in a museum? Write descriptively about the experience!

For A Brief History of Natural History Museums on Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck website, click here https://www.wonderstruckthebook.com/essay_history_museums.htm 

For The History of Dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History on Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck website, click here https://www.wonderstruckthebook.com/essay_history-diorama.htm

For The Queens Museum of Art on Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck website, click here https://www.wonderstruckthebook.com/essay_queens-museum.htm

And here's a clip from Wonderstruck: The Movie that shows the museum's exhibits and dioramas in 1927 and 1977

We learn about many elements in this story slowly and must piece together different pieces of evidence, just as Ben does. What helps Ben discover the truth? Does anything get in the way?

Construct a timeline showing the information Ben uses to work out the identities of his father and grandmother. Which is the most important clue? Make a case for your choice.

If your children had to leave five pieces of evidence to enable someone else to learn about them, what would they choose, and why? 

If you liked this, try...

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, published by Scholastic Press

The Marvels by Brian Selznick, published by Scholastic Press

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Brian Selznick published by Andersen Press

El Deafo by CeCe Bell, published by Amulet Books - a graphic-novel autobiography by a deaf writer-illustrator

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsberg, published by Pushkin - the U.S. classic about children in a museum that inspired Selznick to create Wonderstruck

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman and Bagram Ibatoulline, published by Walker Books - a picturebook about curating a collection of objects inside matchboxes

The Arrival by Shaun Tan, published by Hodder - a sophisticated wordless picturebook featuring imaginary cityscapes

You can find out more about Brian Selznick at his website https://www.thebrianselznick.com

And the book has its own site at https://www.wonderstruckthebook.com including a collection of essays on interesting aspects of the story

A film of Wonderstruck was released in 2017. Directed by Todd Haynes with screenplay by Brian Selznick 

In 2010 The National Centre for Children's Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) in Texas hosted an exhibition of Brian Selznick's work - From Houdini to Hugo: The Art of Brian Selznick. Find out more here  and here

This article first appeared in Teach Primary Magazine. You can access it at www.teachwire.net 

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