THE SNOW QUEEN has always been one of my favorite fairy tale. When I heard that a modern version was being released this fall by Anne Ursu, who had previously written THE CRONUS CHRONICLES, a mythological middle-grade trilogy, I was hooked. Ursu’s writing is strong and descriptive; in 2002, her debut novel, SPILLING CLARENCE (adult fiction) won several awards, was chosen for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers program, and compared to MEMENTO. But for such a well-acclaimed author to dip into my favorite fairy tale? I already knew I needed BREADCRUMBS in my life.
Ursu has a fresh new spin on the tale, modernizing the book in a way that can’t always be pulled off. Her magical fairy tale forest that Hazel must pass through on her way to save Jack from the Snow Queen is so intriguing that I would love to see if featured in future books. In this forest, Ursu introduces young readers to other fairy tales that might be new to them and re-introduces these same characters to anyone familiar with traditional tales, creating something to smile about, from evil red dancing shoes to tragic little match girls. Hazel reminds me so much of myself as a child: A voracious reader caught up in her own imaginary world. I loved all the references to classic books by authors such as Philip Pullman and C.S. Lewis, though after a while, I did get a little tired of such additions. I do think that Hazel will grow up to be a writer, especially if she continues to visit her friend Adelaide and Adelaide’s Uncle Martin (who wasn’t featured nearly enough in this novel!).
While light on the surface (after all, it IS more or less a traditional fairy tale retelling), BREADCRUMBS deals with some heavy themes. It deals with children who are different from their classmates, the heartache that ensues when best friends grow apart, the pain of being unable to help when something happens to a parent. There are so many life lessons packaged into this book, and Hazel really matures and grows throughout her journey to save Jack. I would have loved to see even more character development, though in a way, the lack of development in “real life” is understandable. This story is through Hazel’s eyes. As a child, she doesn’t yet recognize the world for all that it is. She doesn’t pay as much attention when something is wrong. She’s still wrapped in the blanket of innocence, on the cusp of throwing it off seeing things more clearly. She’s most concerned with school and the way people view her. She’s thrown into turmoil when her best friend begins shunning her, yet when she finds out he was kidnapped, she doesn’t hesitate to save him.
At its heart, BREADCRUMBS is a throwback to the strength of friendship, of the importance of imagination, and the fact that it’s okay to be different. It has strong fundamental building blocks that will allow it to be easily embraced by students of all ages. I’m so glad that Ursu chose to bring THE SNOW QUEEN to life for a new generation, and that by modernizing it, she created a story that will resonate will all readers, even ones who aren’t into fairy tales because they’re “baby stories.” It’s whimsical, yet full of strong messages. I could easily see this as being a book that teachers would introduce into the classroom. There’s so much to talk about! It’s also a fun read on its own, perfect for curling up with on a snow day when safe indoors.
Look at all the shades of purple!! *ahem* I really like the stylized look to this cover: It’s fantasy, but also modern, just like the story lying within. Doesn’t looking at the cover make you feel COLD? Brrr, I wouldn’t want to be Hazel right now! And those wolves lurking at the edge of the forest are creeeeeeepy! Hazel’s a much braver girl than I ever was! I also love that curling B and the way the S dips below the rest of the title!
For more about cover illustrator Erin Mcguire and to see more of her stunning artwork, check out today’s interview, part of the BREADCRUMBS Blog Tour!