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!
Are you familiar yet with The Familiars ? While most of the time I highlight YA fiction on my site, I occasionally make an exception for a middle grade novel that I absolutely love, and Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson‘s collaboration certainly makes the cut. For those of you who missed the review I posted when it was first released, you can check out my thoughts on The Familiars now.
With all the enjoyment that I got out of this beautifully illustrated novel the first time around, I’m extremely excited to now be the third stop on the novel’s Halloween blog tour. Who can blame Adam and Andrew for using their book filled with magicians, magician’s apprentices, animal familiars, and plenty of magic from aligning this book with the spooky holiday that is coming up. Read (and watch) the rest of this Halloween guest post by Adam and Andrew to learn more about the Halloween fun!
With Halloween fast approaching, we thought it was only appropriate for The Familiars to celebrate their favorite holiday with a blog tour! We will be trick or treating through the blogosphere, and are so excited to be stopping by YABookShelf.com.
Check out the video and learn the legends of spooky Hollywood houses:
We are also having a special Familiars-themed Halloween Scavenger Hunt! At each stop along the blog tour, we will be asking a trivia question from our book. After you fill in your answer, the letter that falls in the place of the * can be placed in the corresponding number of the larger puzzle. So for example, since this is question number 3, the letter that lands in the space where the * is can be filled in where the 3 is in the larger puzzle. The larger puzzle will form yet another clue, and anyone who answers it correctly will be entered into a drawing for an autographed book as well as a few other Halloween treats!
Be sure to visit The Familiars blog to find links to all other blog stops and find out where to send in your answers! All entries must be entered by November 15.
3. You cannot cast one of these without black lichen. _*_ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___
Hint: Chapter Two, Page 22
11 5 18 8 15 1 9
__ __ __ __ __ __’ __
7 19 14 23 2 25 16 10 12 20
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __
17 3 22 6
__ __ __ __
21 4 24 13
__ __ __ __
Happy Halloween everyone!
Andrew & Adam
Buy The Familiars
Special $10.99 (Regular price: $16.99)
Reviewer: Melissa on September 9, 2010
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
When a clever alley cat named Aldwyn hides in an unusual pet store, he thinks that he’s escaped from present danger. He’s even willing to play along, pretending to be magical, when Jack, a young wizard-in-training, picks him to be his familiar. Of course, he needs to convince more than Jack of his magical abilities: he needs to make Skylar – the know-it-all bluejay – and Gilbert – a friendly tree frog – believe in his worth. When the unthinkable happens, and Jack and other young wizards are captured by the Queen of Vastia, it’s up to the three familiars to find their loyals and save them before it’s too late. If my opinion of this middle grade fantasy adventure novel means anything, then The Familiars will be the perfect book to either read along with your child or students or have them cozy up with on their own. (Truth be told, I think even adults will enjoy it.)
TheFamiliars is a magical story that is sure to delight readers of all ages: I’m 30, and even I was sucked into the narrative with it’s twist and turns from the moment I picked it up. In particular, the question of whether Aldwyn, the hopelessly ordinary cat, will be able to use his own wits to get out of one situation after another and be of service to the two magically-endowed animals and his loyal, Jack, is one that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Authors Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson clearly have a deep love for fantasy, and their passion not only shows through, but also will become infectious to even the most reluctant of readers.
One of the most important themes in the novel is that of friendship and loyalty. Each of the familiars, even Aldwyn who only met Jack a few days before the quest began, have a deep connection with their loyals, and the affection isn’t just in one direction. Just as the familiars put themselves in harms way to save Jack, Marianne, and Dalton from the clutches of the queen, it is clear from the novel’s events that the loyals would have done the same for their familiars had the situation been reversed. While many other narratives wouldn’t make this relationship reciprocal, the authors show that any imbalance within the loyal-familiar bond would be disastrous. Similarly each of the familiars rely on one another to finish their quest. If one of them has a gift that can get them out of the situation, then they have to use it (I’ll let you read the story to determine what powers are ascribed to them though). If one of them has a family member who could help, then they should take it, even if they’re uncomfortable with it. Finally, if one of them keeps secrets from the others, then the sense of betrayal will be visceral. Children will, not surprisingly, come away from this novel with a deeper understanding for the value of true friendship and what it means to be a friend.
Epstein and Jacobson use a lot of humor to get their point across. Of course, what will be laugh-out-loud funny to a middle grade reader might only translate into a quick chuckle for an adult, so keep that in mind. Of course, this fact is to be expected, but I still think that adults who read this story with or separate from their children or students will feel a smile appearing on their face and a love for fantasy adventure narratives building in their hearts all over again. Get a copy of The Familiars. You won’t be disappointed, but you might start wishing that your own pet could talk too!
Buy The Familiars today!