Breadcrumbs Book Poster Image




Brilliant tale of girl's enchanted-woods search for friend.
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What parents need to know

Educational value

References to children’s literature abound (most notably the Narnia books and the fairy tale "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen), although they are not always cited. Hazel is an avid reader with an active imagination, but she has a hard time paying attention in school and gets in trouble with the teacher.

Positive messages

Hazel comes to understand that friendships must change and that she will change as well, but that positive outcomes may also result, such as new friends and new interests.

Positive role models

Hazel is a loyal friend to Jack and understands that she must rescue him even if their friendship won’t be the same afterward.


In the woods, a woman viciously slashes Hazel with her claw-like fingernails when Hazel steals her enchanted swan skin, and Hazel’s face is permanently scarred. At school, Hazel throws a pencil case at a boy who makes fun of her.

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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this middle-grade retelling of "The Snow Queen" deals with an 11-year-old boy disappearing into the woods and his best friend, Hazel, going in after to rescue him. Although this is clearly a fantasy, real-world elements are woven in so strongly that the situation might seem more frightening than in the usual fantastic story. Hazel’s journey through the woods includes scary scenarios such as a lonely couple that entices children to stay with them and then transforms them into flowers and beautiful red shoes that won’t let their wearer stop dancing. Back home, Jack’s mother suffers from depression, and Hazel’s father has left her and her mother. Hazel is excluded by her peers at school, and her teachers don’t appreciate her imagination. Hazel wonders why she’s so different from everyone else. Is it that she was adopted and her skin is darker than everyone else’s, or is there something intrinsically wrong with her?

What's the story?

Hazel’s teacher thinks she has an overactive imagination, and the other kids at school think she is just plain weird. Except Jack. Since they were 6, he's been Hazel’s best friend. But when a shard of enchanted mirror flies into Jack’s eye, Jack starts hanging out with the boys instead of Hazel. Then, suddenly, Jack's gone. When one of the boys tells Hazel he saw Jack ride into the woods on a wolf-drawn sled with a silver woman made of snow, Hazel realizes only she can rescue Jack. But although she’s read countless fairy tales and fantasies, none of them has prepared her for walking through a genuine enchanted woods. As one of its inhabitants tells her, "It’s not the wolves you have to worry about."

Is it any good?


Hazel's a sensitive and imaginative girl, and readers will relate to and root for her even when she is filled with doubt about her own self-worth. Ursu delicately weaves classic fairy tale themes into Hazel’s very real world and addresses dark subjects such as depression and isolation without trivializing them in the fantasy setting. The tale is fraught with metaphor that doesn’t have to be understood by children who simply want an exciting adventure story, but it will add an extra dimension for those who want to dig deeper.


Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Hazel doesn’t feel she belongs at school. Why does she feel this way? Is there anyone at your school who is an outcast? Have you ever tried to change the situation for that person?

  • Although Jack’s heart is enchanted so he can no longer feel, his situation could be a metaphor for what it feels like when friendships change. If this happened to you, would you try to "rescue" your friend, as Hazel did?

  • The boy in the woods tells Hazel, "Sometimes it seems like it might be easier to give yourself to the ice." What do you think he means by this?

  • Hazel thinks of herself as fundamentally different from her classmates -- do you think she is? Are there ways she is similar to them that she doesn’t see?

Book details

Author:Anne Ursu
Illustrator:Erin McGuire
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Walden Pond Press
Publication date:September 27, 2011
Number of pages:320
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12

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Parent of a 7, 10, and 12 year old Written byWordGirlTN 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
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Parent of a 9 year old Written byMamaBearNJ 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.
Kid, 12 years old January 6, 2012

Ineptly named book is a fun retelling of The Snow Queen!

Breadcrumbs is essentially a retelling of The Snow Queen, and as such, is a fantasy adventure where the girl undertakes a fairly dangerous quest to rescue her best friend, the boy. However, Breadcrumbs (the book is badly named...there are no Hansel and Gretel references) is a modern day version of the story, and deals with issues that are more realistic. The first half of the book deals with Hazel's life. Her dad has left her, and she has trouble making her mom understand what is going on in her life. Since she is now living with just her mom, there is no money for her to continue going to the same school, and she has trouble fitting in at her new one. Her best friend, Jack, is a boy, and the other kids tease her. Hazel is a very creative girl and an avid reader, but none of her teachers appear to understand or appreciate her. Jack's mom has some problems...most likely depression. With her life as it stands, it is no wonder Hazel decides to rescue Jack when he gets kidnapped by the Snow Queen, even though Jack has changed and he knows their friendship will too. In the forest, there are scary red shoes that dance you to your death, good wolves, evil woodcutters, and more. Hazel is attacked by a woman, getting a nasty scar, when she takes a swan suit. This scene may be a bit disturbing to younger readers. Another adapted Snow Queen scene is tragic. There is a cottage in the woods maintained by an old couple who take in little girls, and, in desire to keep them forever, turn them into flowers. Overall, the story has a strong message of friendship. There are many Narnia references (one of the more obvious is when the Snow Queen takes Jack: she says "Would you like some Turkish delight?"), and those who have read Narnia will find the story more fun, and will take more out of it. Girls and boys should both enjoy the story, but boys may not enjoy reading about Hazel rescuing Jack as much as girls will.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models