Parent of 7, 10, and 12 year old
February 14, 2012
A Book Worth Sharing
Breadcrumbs was, quite simply, a beautiful book. I loved the story of Hazel and her friendship with Jack. I loved the writing. I loved the mix of reality and fantasy. I love that it is a book recommended to me by my ten year old daughter and that I enjoyed it as much as she did.
Hazel is a fifth grader whose personal life is in upheaval: her parents are divorced, her father is about to remarry, she's attending a new school and her best friend is acting strange, then disappears. How much change can a ten year old endure? More than adults think.
While this was a thoroughly entertaining book, I loved that the themes it addressed were deep and true. I think Hazel's experience of a new school that doesn't value her unique way of learning is more painful than any adult around her realizes. Maybe the changes to her friendship with Jack are inevitable, but that doesn't make them any less difficult to endure. Jack's desire to disappear from his own life (populated by a mother with depression and an overworked father) is all too familiar. How often do I choose to numb myself rather than experience the pain around me? That Jack does this in a fairy tale setting instead of with books, TV or movies doesn't make it any less relevant.
In writing Breadcrumbs, Anne Ursu has blurred the line between a coming of age tale and a fairy tale. We see Hazel struggling to find a place where she fits and we see her do something extraordinary when she leaves the known world to rescue Jack. Not only does she tell an excellent story, Ursu tells the story with excellent writing. This is paragraph made me stop reading and ask my daughter, "Did you love this book for its story or its writing?" "Both," she replied. Here's why:
"Now, the world is more than it seems to be. You know this, of course, because you read stories. You understand that there is the surface and then there are all the things that glimmer and shift underneath." (excerpt from Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu)
Ursu has done what I consider to be a difficult task, but one that is beautiful when done well: she's written a book about children and for children that is not the least bit childish. I never longed for more depth of character with Hazel. I never doubted her actions or had trouble reconciling them with what I knew of her. She was real to me and I believed every word of her story.
If you want to remind yourself of all of the ways that our world is more than it seems, if you want to escape your reality for the wonder of a fairy tale or if you want to remember what it was like to see and believe the magic of stories, Hazel's journey in Breadcrumbs would make a fine companion for you - and for the young reader in your life.
What other families should know:
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Parent of 9 year old
December 4, 2012
Somewhat gloomy retelling of The Snow Queen
Nothing off-color, nothing bloody, nothing nearly as frightening as parts of the original, but this modern retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's classic fairy tale The Snow Queen just seemed to me to deliver too much depression and too little joy. As in the original fairy tale, a girl sets off into a dangerous magical landscape to rescue a boy who had been her friend, but has turned cold to her. However, in Ursu's modern retelling, the boy's enchantment by the Snow Queen is psychologized somewhat. He seeks the numbness the Snow Queen offers because he's depressed by his mother's unresponsiveness (seemingly in the throes of mental illness, although it's never explained). To throw in a SPOILER WHICH YOU MAY NOT WANT TO READ IF YOU INTEND TO READ THE BOOK ANYWAY, the issues with the boy's family are never resolved, and though the boy and girl become friends again, there's no sense of a new understanding between them that would make what they've gone through seem worthwhile. To my tastes, that made the book unsatisfying and far sadder than the original. The happy ending seemed pallid and meager compared to the glowing, joyous ending of _The Snow Queen_. Although the children originally bonded around their love of fantasy, the book's fantasy elements only figure as threats, which paradoxically almost seems to send an anti-fantasy message. All in all, if I wanted to recommend a fantasy to a child dealing with issues of betrayal in friendship, I'd sooner recommend the original than this retelling: it offers more hope.
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