Just in Time for Christmas: Cassie-la Hands Out Warm Fuzzies With “Breadcrumbs” by Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Genre: Fiction, fractured fairy tale, fantasy, childrens, your heart will grow three sizes
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary: Hazel is best friends with Jack, until one day he is taken away by the evil Snow Queen to her ice castle where she plans to hold him for eternity. Armed only with her knowledge of fantasy fiction, Hazel heads into the woods to rescue Jack and save their friendship. Based on several fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen, Breadcrumbs is a reworked fairy tale for the modern age.

It seemed appropriate to write up a review of this winter tale about friendship, fantasy and adventure on this chilly Christmas Eve Eve/the fourth night of Chanukah. No idea if any other holidays have started or are close yet. Sorry celebrators of Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and Festivus!

The first half of Breadcrumbs focuses on the friendship of best friends Jack and Hazel, their trials and tribulations at school, and Hazel’s struggle to make new connections. This opening has a two-fold effect. For the children that read it, it gives them a strong lesson about growing up (people grow apart, they change- your friends now will not be your friends forever). An older audience reading this novel with instead be hit with a strong sense of nostalgia. From reading A Wrinkle in Time, missing the school bus, recess, moving decimal places, and bike riding to the candy store I related so heavily to Hazel and I have a feeling my fellow Bibliomantics will as well. NERDCORE FOR LIFE!

Hazel is extremely relate-able, due to her love of fantasy literature and strong imagination. It is mentioned that, “When they had art, she was the only one who painted Hogwarts.” This is our kind of girl. She references traveling by tauntaun, and her clubhouse is nicknamed the Shrieking Shack. I often wonder how different my childhood would have been if Harry Potter existed when I was younger. I probably would have imagined being Catwoman and the Pink Power Ranger much less.

Jack is equally imaginative and the two often play Superhero Baseball, a game where they pretend to be superheroes who play baseball while trying to keep their powers under wraps. For example, super heroes have to be conscious while playing NOT to rip holes in the space-time continuum, or keep their radioactive mosquito bite powers at bay. Jack, as boys are want to do keeps stats for all their heroes, “Batman, oddly, had a lot of strikeouts”.

Another fun character (and perhaps my favorite) is Uncle Martin. I immediately fell in love with him when I read that, “He looked like the sort of person who might hand you an invitation to wizard school.” As a person he is eccentric, possibly gay, and more connected to his inner child than any adult in the novel. He discusses The Golden Compass with Hazel, explaining that his daemon would be a slug. Uncle Martin encourages imagination rather than stifling it. Team Uncle Martin!

The second half of the novel covers Hazels journey into the woods and her mission to rescue Jack from the Snow Queen. In this portion Anne Ursu rewrites not just one but multiple Hans Christian Andersen tales. The main plot is obviously from the story The Snow Queen, in which she takes a young boy who gets a piece of goblin mirror in his eye and is only able to see the darkness in things. Sensing this change in him, the Snow Queen takes Jack into her sleigh and says the following to him…

THE SNOW QUEEN: “Would you like some Turkish Delight?”
JACK: “Huh?”
THE SNOW QUEEN: “Just a little joke.”

I literally died of love when I read that. Narnia jokes. I can’t remember another novel that had such a deft Narnia joke in it.

I counted three other fairy tales total, but I’m sure I’m missing the majority of them. I’m not a fairy tale scholar or anything.

The most disturbing is the take on The Red Shoes. In the original a selfish girl begs her mother for a pair of red dancing shoes. When she puts them on however she cannot stop dancing, as the shoes have taken on a life of their own. After being warned that she will dance even after death, she has her feet amputated to escape her fate. The amputated feet however continue dancing. Uck. The story in Breadcrumbs features these red shoes, although Hazel only witnesses the girl who seems unable to stop dancing. This is a children’s novel so the horror is more muted, yet still prevalent in Hazel’s observations. Not sure how unsettling it would be for a child but I sure as hell felt nauseous reading it.

Another story is based lightly on The Nightingale, in which there is a real nightingale and a mechanical replacement. These same nightingales are seen in Hazel’s travels. She also meets a couple who turns lost girls into flowers, but I’m not sure what this tale is based off of. The final tale I recognized is The Little Match Girl, about a girl who suffers hypothermia and encounters delusions in the flames of the matchsticks she sells. Through Hazel’s selflessness, this version has a happier ending than the original. But Hans Christian Andersen was never about happy endings.

Ultimately, it is the writing style that drew me into this novel. I don’t know how she does it, but Anne Ursu writes such whimsical prose. It’s hard to explain, but while reading the text just felt right. Does any other bibliophile know what I mean when I say the text was extremely tangible to me? Maybe I’m crazy, but sometimes while reading I can feel a text I particularly enjoy or connect to. For now, until I hear otherwise, I’ll just assume it’s insanity.

THE GOOD:
-References a lot of modern fantasy stories
-Takes Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and rewrites them in a new way
-The writing is fun, whimsical, and downright perfection
-Teaches children the true meaning of growing up, provides adults with nostalgia
-Did I mention this story is perfect? PERFECT!

THE BAD:
-Was too cute! Can something be too cute?

One day I hope to be like Uncle Martin, discussing daemons and making up fantastical stories in order to cultivate creativity in children. If I can spread my love of the written word it will be the ultimate triumph. After all, reading is the new black way cool.

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3 thoughts on “Just in Time for Christmas: Cassie-la Hands Out Warm Fuzzies With “Breadcrumbs” by Anne Ursu

    • YAY! Glad I succeeeded! This and “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…” are written for children but are definitely elevated high above where most people would put children’s literature.

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