Hazel and Jack have been best friends and next-door neighbors since they were little--riding bikes, sledding, and dreaming up new superheroes. But life changed for each of them just before fifth grade, when Hazel's father walked out on his family and Jack's mother showed signs of depression.
The two share a sense of wonder and have active imaginations. In fact, Hazel thinks:
The truth of things was always much more mundane than what she could imagine, and she did not understand why people always wanted to replace the marvelous things in her head with [a] miserable heap of you're-a-fifth-grader-now facts. (p. 3)Hazel struggles to fit in at school, but knows she can count on Jack for friendship. Then one day it snows, and Jack gets something in his eye, and suddenly everything changes.
Breadcrumbs is Anne Ursu's retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Snow Queen." This modern rendition maintains the ambiance of the original tale but makes it more accessible to today's middle grade reader.
Hazel is a girl in transition: She's adjusting to growing up, to living without a father, and to having to make new friends. Jack too is torn between his best friend (a girl) and his school buddies (boys) and is dealing with an emotionally distant mother. When Jack succumbs to the Snow Queen's false love and disappears into the woods, Hazel finds her courage and goes on a journey to rescue him.
As in any good fairy tale, the magic woods are spooky and Hazel meets crones, wolves, ravens, and woodsmen along the way. It's fun to see how she reacts to the creatures and people she meets. Hazel has a twenty-first-century sensibility and draws on it to help her determine friend from foe. Breadcrumbs is a good Halloween season novel but isn't so scary that timid readers need pass it by.
One way Ursu modernizes the original story is by giving the children problems that today's kids can relate to: divorce, adoption, being teased at school, and wanting things your parents can't afford. On the other hand, it's important that all is not sad for Hazel. Her mother truly loves and cares for her and the young girl is able to make a new friend, find new interests, and meet adults who can and do help her. In addition, well-read youngsters will appreciate Ursu's references to popular children's literature, such as the Narnia books and Harry Potter.
Breadcrumbs would make a great children's book club selection because there is so much to discuss, from the magical elements to the real-world problems Jack and Hazel must overcome. Parents and teachers will appreciate the thoughtful and helpful reading guide, available on the publisher's website. In addition to 18 great discussion questions and topics, the guide includes suggestions for related activities. Parents, home-schoolers, and teachers can use these interesting projects to help children discover how reading connects them to history, science, the arts, and imagination.
Adults who enjoy fairy tale retellings should add Breadcrumbs to their reading list.
Giveaway: Thanks to the publisher, who sent me an additional advance reader's edition of Breadcrumbs, I am pleased to offer an unread copy to one of my readers. I'm happy to send the book anywhere in the world. All you have to do to enter is fill out the form. I'll pick a winner (via a random-number generator) on October 6.
Anne Ursu's website includes a sample chapter from the book. You can also check out her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter. This review will be linked to Kid Konnection, hosted by Julie at Booking Mama.