Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it’s up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.
I grew up in a world of fairy tales. I was there when Beauty tamed the beast, when Ali Baba found the magic lamp, when Cinderella lost her slipper, when Red discovered a wolf in her grandmother’s bed… These are stories I read over and over as a child and still revisit from time to time. There is a reason why these tales stay with us and pass down through the generations. They help us find the way through the dark woods of childhood. Sometimes they offer hope, other times they recommend caution. But mostly they offer us friends whom we can identify with in some small way.
Whenever I think of these fairy tales I think of the classic authors: the Grimm brothers, Charles Perrault, Aesop, and Hans Christian Anderson. After reading Breadcrumbs, I have a new name to add to the list: Anne Ursu.
Everything that I love about fairy tales (and other magical stories) I found in this enchanting retelling of Anderson’s “The Snow Queen.” In Breadcrumbs the present-day world collides with the mysteriously magical world of the imagination and the result is breathtaking. A white witch, a magic mirror, woodsmen and animal guardians all exist just beyond our world in a stretch of woods. What is truly magical about these tropes is the way they help Hazel and Jack navigate their own tribulations.
Jack feels invisible in the eyes of his depressed mother. Hazel is dealing with her parents’ divorce and her own social awkwardness. As the pair soon learn, sometimes it’s easier to follow the wicked witch, to submit to the cold and feel nothing at all. But on her quest to rescue Jack from the cold, Hazel reminds the reader of the importance of warmth. This warmth comes in many shapes and sizes such as kindness towards others, self-assurance and, most importantly, friendship. Hazel’s journey, though it isn’t exactly happy, filled my heart with this warmth.
Not only is Hazel a terrific friend to Jack, but she is also a great friend to the reader. Somewhere inside of me there is a little eight-year-old girl whom Hazel called out to and asked to play. She held out a hand and whisked little me off on an adventure and the 23-year-old me let her go with a nostalgic smile and a wave goodbye. I still feel like that young girl sometimes trying to figure out the twists and turns of the dark woods as I learn what it is to be grown up. But then all I have to do is open up a good fairy tale and there is someone like Hazel ready and waiting to help me find the breadcrumbs back to the right path.
Young readers will delight in the imaginative world Ursu has created for Hazel, and older readers will rediscover the perhaps forgotten wonders of childhood. Breadcrumbs is the perfect story to curl up with in a cozy blanket while the snow descends outside.