Special Price: $6.29 (Regular price: $6.99)
Publisher: Waldon Pond Press
Reviewer: Melissa on April 23, 2013
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were the best of friends. They’d been best friends since the age of six; they spent hot Minneapolis summer and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of fictional worlds, like Hogwarts and Oz, imaginary characters, like superheroes, and baseball. But now that they’re eleven, it’s harder for them to be friends across the boy-girl divide. And then, one day, it’s over. Jack changed and despite her mother’s assurances that this is just the way things go between boys and girls, Hazel knows better. Jack’s heart has been frozen, and the white witch took him into the woods to live in her palace of ice. Now, Hazel must set out on a quest to bring him back, but she soon finds that these woods aren’t anything like the ones she’s read about and that the Jack she finds may no longer be the one she remembers. Maybe even she no longer is the same person either. Inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is a brilliantly executed, middle grade novel that will appeal to readers of all ages.
Once upon a time, an adult reader with a soft spot for young adult fiction ventured into the middle grade world of Ursu’s Breadcrumbs and came out the other side a changed person. Since it came out in 2011, I’ve heard a lot of great things about this story, and then when coupled with a magical cover illustration and a cute title, I knew I had to read it. I assumed that I had this book all figured out from the title alone: I was sure that Hansel and Gretel’s dilemma would somehow figure into the story, but while there is a witch, this book exceeded all of my expectations, turning the obvious literary allusion on its head and calling to mind so many others. Adult readers will delight in finding that there is more than meets the eye to this book, just as middle grade readers will delight in seeing both Breadcrumbs’ real and alternate world told through the eyes of an avid reader of fairytales and middle grade fantasy novels. There’s definitely something for everyone here.
One of the things that I loved most about this novel is the metaphorical bread crumbs that Hazel leaves throughout the story from her reading experiences. Whereas adults often discuss bringing the interpretative framework of their readings to each new text they approach, Ursu suggests that a creative child, like Hazel, would use her reading as a way to interpret both her own world and that of the alternate one she enters to find Jack. This ingenious authorial decision permits readers to recognize their own reading experiences through Hazel’s eyes, and thus, allows them to identify with her very readily. Similarly, whenever they come upon a literary reference to a book that they haven’t yet explored themselves or that Hazel misreads, they will be enticed to pick it up to understand Hazel’s perspective better and to see where her misreading takes her. With Breadcrumbs, reading begets further paths to reading.
Those who are more familiar with middle grade novels will be accustomed to the way in which they can, sometimes, approach mature themes in ways that are age appropriate. I, however, was amazed by the way in which sometimes difficult and dark themes, like bullying, adoption / feelings of abandonment, separation / divorce, loss and depression, are broached by the novel. Again, I want to emphasize that these topics are explored in ways that 8-12 year olds would understand. However, since I’m only beginning to delve into the world of middle grade fiction, I was surprised – in a good way – by how thoughtfully these important questions are brought up because despite how much we want to protect younger readers, we have to be aware that sometimes dark things affect them and that books are a safe place for them to explore these questions, whether they come up in the real or fantasy worlds of Ursu’s story.
Readers looking for a well-written middle grade story about friendship, the struggle to hold on to the past, and the things that we have to leave behind to move forward again will do well to pick up Breadcrumbs if they haven’t already. Best of all, Breadcrumbs is a book that parents and adult readers of middle grade fiction will be as equally enthralled by Ursu’s narrative voice as children are.
Buy Breadcrumbs today and save 10% off the regular price!