A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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?
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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.
Talk to your kids 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?
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