- Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
- Reading level: Ages 8 and up
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Walden Pond Press; 1 edition (September 27, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0062015051
Who and what is the book about (back-of-the-book blurb): A stunning modern-day fairy tale – Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it’s up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.
Where and when does it take place: Breadcrumbs is neatly divided into two sections – the first takes place in a midwestern suburb in the present day; the second section is set “in the woods,” an enchanted and timeless forest ruled by a woman made of ice.
What would I say to a friend who asked me about it: Breadcrumbs is a wonderful middle grade novel which – while giving nods to several fairy tales and fantasy books – is unique in its exploration of changes in the lives of the young protagonists. Hazel and Jack have been best friends for ages; now in their upper elementary years, Jack seems ready to let go of their shared fantasies and spend more time with his male peers. Hazel, always more creative and individual than her classmates, has found shelter and support in Jack’s friendship, and has little interest in spending time doing (stereotypical) activities with other girls. Aside from the changing rhythms of their childhoods, Hazel and Jack have both experienced more abrupt changes in the past few years – Hazel’s parents have divorced, and her Dad is remarrying; Jack’s mother suffers from depression (referred to as a ‘sadness’ in the novel).
When Jack disappears into the mysterious woods, Hazel knows he’s in trouble, and that only she can save him. Once she crosses beyond the tree line, the real magic kicks in. Just like in the outside world, things are not always as they appear; Hazel has to assess people’s motivations, learn who she can trust, and ultimately rely on her own strength and the power of friendship. Because we are always with Hazel, and never alone with Jack, we see more of her growth as a character. She is a strong female protagonist, and a positive, encouraging model for young readers.
Why did I read it: Breadcrumbs got a lot of pre-publication attention, which brought it to my attention. While I don’t often review middle grade (or young adult) books because I feel I’m not the target audience, and can’t give the “best” (most accurate, most insightful) review, I decided to take the plunge with this novel.
A few favorite passages: I marked several passages, enjoying the subtle references to The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, and the Harry Potter series, among others, while noting “hey, I should re-read (or, in some cases, read for the first time) that book!”
This is the opening paragraph of the novel, which so neatly sets the stage for what is to come:
It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems. It was the sort of snow that transforms the world around it into a different kind of place. You know what it’s like – when you wake up to find everything white and soft and quiet, when you run outside and your breath suddenly appears before you in a smoky poof, when you wonder for a moment if the world in which you woke up is not the same one that you went to bed in the night before. Things like that happen, at least in the stories you read. It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out.
And this sage observation from an adult in the suburbs (before Hazel followed Jack into the woods):
“I believe that the world isn’t always what we can see. … And I believe that goodness wins out. … if someone’s changed overnight … you have to show them what’s good. You show them love. That works a surprising amount of the time. And if that doesn’t save them, they’re not worth saving.”
What else can I add: Breadcrumbs was selected as NPR’s Backseat Book Club pick for December 2011; middle grade listeners were invited to read the book (along with their parents), to discuss it among the family, ask questions and submit observations to NPR, and to send in photos of themselves reading. This is a fantastic program, and a great way to engage families (and classrooms) in conversations about books … and whatever else it may lead to.
Anne Ursu is also the author of the Cronus Chronicles (The Shadow Thieves, The Siren Song, and The Immortal Fire), and teaches in an MFA program in Writing for Children. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter. Breadcrumbs was named a finalist in the 2011 Cybils (Children’s and Young Adults Blogger’s Literary Awards).