I expected to enjoy this book. I WANTED to enjoy this book. But the pacing was so slow and the tone so ponderous that it ultimately lost me. It's rare...moreI expected to enjoy this book. I WANTED to enjoy this book. But the pacing was so slow and the tone so ponderous that it ultimately lost me. It's rare for me to give up before I reach the final page, but I put this book down when I was halfway through and I don't see myself picking it up again. Clare Vanderpool's writing is lovely in places (hence the 3 stars), but her plotting could be so much sharper here and her characters feel half-drawn. Early's voice never rang true for me, in part because he sounds too young for his age, even when he's saying things that are very adult in their philosophy. I think this book is likely to lose kids even faster than it lost me. Moon Over Manifest drew me in but hasn't stayed with me. This one lost even that first battle, I'm afraid.(less)
This is a clever anthology of short stories in comics form with LOTS of kid appeal! The theme (each story features a mysterious box with magical conte...moreThis is a clever anthology of short stories in comics form with LOTS of kid appeal! The theme (each story features a mysterious box with magical contents) would work great as a creative writing prompt, and reading the assorted riffs here would certainly get the creative juices flowing. A nicely varied collection, it features a range of different art styles and tones. It's probably the best fit for grades 4 -6 but will also appeal to many 7th graders, AND make an ideal choice for reluctant readers throughout elementary and middle school.(less)
**spoiler alert** The Pros (in brief): This is a beautifully, BEAUTIFULLY written book. I wanted to sink into the writing and stay there. I wanted to...more**spoiler alert** The Pros (in brief): This is a beautifully, BEAUTIFULLY written book. I wanted to sink into the writing and stay there. I wanted to take Hazel home with me and fill her world with good cheer, kind words, and best wishes. The story is captivating, beautiful, and moving. It’s a book that stars a girl but it will also appeal to boys. On top of that it’s (rarity of rarities!) a middle grade fantasy adventure story starring a girl who is NOT white (HOORAY!).
The Cons (in brief) this a VERY melancholy story, and the sections I personally found the most satisfying were those were those that took place in the "real world." I felt less emotionally connected to the fantasy half of the story (Part Two) and was let-down by the relative lack of climax and fact that so many things were left unresolved (and therefore depressing) at the end. NEVERTHELESS, I think this a 2011 book that should go on everyone's must-read list for the year!
I'm pasting a lengthy summary + more comments about my enjoyment of Breadcrumbs below, because it's the type of book that I found myself *wanting* to think and write about at length.
Here's a lengthy summary (CONTAINS SPOILERS!):
This is a modern-day fantasy inspired by the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Snow Queen.”
Part One takes place in “the real world” where Hazel, whose parents adopted her from India, is dealing with her parents’ divorce, her mother’s limited finances, her adjustment to 5th grade at a new school, and an unexpected rift that’s developing between her and her best friend Jack. At first it seems that Jack’s friends are to blame. They want nothing to do with Hazel, whom they see as a strange, childish girl who spends too much time reading books and imaging worlds of fantasy. Jack’s friend Tyler bullies and belittles Hazel as Jack tries his best to please all of them and somehow keep his friendships both separate and intact. But things suddenly change, Jack stops talking to her, and Hazel suffers over the loss of his friendship.
Meanwhile Jack, too, is suffering. For months his mother has been battling severe depression, and watching her has left him scared, sad and desperate for her affection. His concern for both his mother and Hazel all but disappears, though, when the shard of a magical mirror pierces and hardens his heart. Soon after, a strange, beautiful woman arrives on a sled pulled by white wolves. When she offers to take Jack away from his world to her home deep in the snows of winter, he is powerless to resist her and desperate for the love of someone who might give him what his mother cannot. So he goes.
Jack’s friend Tyler sees it happen. Jack’s parents (who are bewitched) believe he is visiting some distant relative, but Tyler sees the Snow Queen and the sled with his own two eyes. Seeing, though, is not the same thing as believing, and Tyler doesn’t believe in magic or fantasy worlds – the stuff mooned over by strange girls like Hazel. Realizing Hazel is the only one who believes in magic and therefore the only one who will believe what’s happened to Jack, Tyler tells her what he’s seen.
In Part Two, Hazel sets out to rescue Jack, in spite of the fact that he’s turned his back on her and may not want to be rescued. Stepping into a world even colder (both literally and figuratively) than her own, she encounters evil people and has bad experiences borrowed from classic fairy tales, all designed to make her forget herself, forget her own world, and stay in the world of fantasy forever.
What I Loved:
Hazel is a wonderful main character with whom readers will easily identify and empathize. She has a sharp mind and a rich imagination. Her friendship with Jack feels 100% real and I found myself wanting desperately for them to repair the rift that forms between them.
Hazel is an avid reader and throughout this story Ursu cleverly inserts references to a wide variety of books and fairy tales (e. g. His Dark Materials, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, When You Reach Me, The Chronicles of Narnia, Coraline, The Phantom Tollbooth). The mentions are subtle enough to capture only the attention of readers who know the books she’s referring to – those less “in the know” won’t feel they’re on the outside of an inside joke.
I LOVE the cover of this book. I think it’s intriguing – it makes me want to know what’s going to happen in the story – and it establishes the tone of the book perfectly. It says “adventure” and “fantasy” AND (thank you, Walden Pond Press!) it shows a non-white kid setting out to encounter both.
What I Didn’t Love:
For the first half it bore a resemblance, tone-wise, to When You Reach Me, but when the story grew darker (in Part Two) the mood of the book did too. Had I gone in expecting it this book to so moody, I’d have been less disappointed to see it become so, but alas -- my expectations for middle grade novels (which tend to end on a happy note, at least) seems to have worked against me.
The “real world” scenes of Part One felt completely real to me, while the scenes in the fantasy world felt abstract and ungrounded, at least by comparison. Once Hazel stepped through into the fairy tale world, we lost any view of the peripheral characters in her world, and I found myself missing their constancy and the small sparks of joy that came with some of them. This is part of what made Part Two feel so melancholy. While Hazel’s life in the real world is characterized by emotional highs and lows, in the fantasy world, it’s all lows – one after another. This is largely because everything in the fantasy world is false (no one is trustworthy and nothing is as it seems), but the result is that Hazel’s adventures there feel more depressing, a little bewildering, and a bit aimless. She just encounters one harsh thing after another, which to me felt… wearing, emotionally.
The ending itself feels a little muddy and rather abrupt. There is no real climax to the story, which I found disappointing – it just builds and builds and fades and ends. Poof! Hazel’s reunion with Jack did not have the punch I was hoping it would. The ending ultimately feels as anticlimactic (and potentially disappointing) as most endings in the real world – without fanfare or fireworks or happily ever afters.
There are a few places where the perspective changes and we see what’s happening outside Hazel’s world (with, say, the mirror or the Snow Queen). These sections are few and far between and (possibly FOR that reason) I found those sections intrusive. As the reader I felt like I had such a close and intimate relationship with Hazel that I wanted to see/experience everything on her time and from her point of view – not anyone else’s.
My disappointments with Part Two may have, in part, been caused by the coincidence of my having read both A Tale Dark and Grimm and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making just a few short months ago. Ursu drew on some of the same classic tales and themes that appear in those books when she crafted the fantasy world through which Hazel ventures. As a result I was frequently distracted by my own thoughts of "Didn't I just read this tale somewhere? I'm sure I did. I definitely did! But where...?" I also find myself unsurprised, then, by some of the outcomes of Hazel's fairy tale experiences. This is neither the book’s fault, nor a mark against it (!), but I mention it here as a forewarning to anyone whose list of "books read" bears much resemblance to mine. Be prepared to turn back to those other books to be reassured that you haven't lost your mind! ; )
This is a great read featuring a fully-realized cast of characters, a plot that (while long) includes lots of action and suspense, underlying messages...moreThis is a great read featuring a fully-realized cast of characters, a plot that (while long) includes lots of action and suspense, underlying messages that teachers and parents will applaud, and an ending that will make readers want to move right along to the sequel. It’s a terrific companion to the Ranger’s Apprentice series (of which I am also a fan), written in the same style and with almost identical themes. John Flanagan’s fans will NOT be disappointed! Woven into the story is lots of interesting information about weaponry, battle tactics, navigation, and nautical terms.
The only female character of any importance in this first book is Hal’s mother, but I think girls who enjoy fantasy and historical fiction will be taken with this story, for as much as it’s boy-centric, at heart it’s just a good book, period. In the Ranger’s Apprentice series John Flanagan introduced a strong young female characters early on, so it would not surprise me if he did the same with this one.
Schools focused on character education and/or ethics will love this book. Some of the messages readers will take from it: understanding that mistakes come with consequences; taking responsibility; respecting your elders and your peers; putting aside self pity; the value of hard work, discipline, kindness; the importance of practice; the benefits of a positive outlook/attitude; the effectiveness of a strong team; and more! I can't wait to read the series' next installment! (less)
Fast-paced and fun. The plot here is one-note - just one close scrape after another as the odd couple tries to stay clear of a cat's clutches - but i...more
Fast-paced and fun. The plot here is one-note - just one close scrape after another as the odd couple tries to stay clear of a cat's clutches - but it's a fun romp with lively illustrations that'll definitely appeal to young comics readers.(less)
First, a few negatives: For the first chapter or so I thought that Megan was too irksome a character for me – in the beginning she is selfish and whin...moreFirst, a few negatives: For the first chapter or so I thought that Megan was too irksome a character for me – in the beginning she is selfish and whiny and melodramatic and… a total brat, frankly. I also found it frustrating that she shows (even by the end) relatively little regard for the agony that she has put her parents and countless other people through, as her story has been all over the news and countless people have been searching for her. I was also very aware, while reading it, that the outcomes of this story are very much idealized – Megan’s change of heart and awakening come a bit more quickly than feels real, and it’s hard to believe 1.) she encounters so few hikers on the AT in the middle of summer, and 2.) those she meets don’t pay particular notice to her and/or notify the authorities.
BUT, I’m pushing all of those negatives aside, because I don’t think most kids will be bothered by them. Both the adult and the kid in me enjoyed watching Megan’s transformation over the course of this story. It was gratifying to watch her attitude change from negative to positive and honestly just fun to hike along with her on her adventure. Each time I’d pick up this book, I found myself wanting to know what was happening to Megan and whether or not she was going to make it all the way to Mt. Greylock before adults intervened. I found myself hoping she’d go the distance, and think it’s likely that kids will do the same. Hopefully some of them will also be inspired to go hiking! (less)
I read this book MONTHS ago and after all this time... I still feel conflicted about it. I thought the writing was stunning -- so many perfect turns o...moreI read this book MONTHS ago and after all this time... I still feel conflicted about it. I thought the writing was stunning -- so many perfect turns of phrase -- but ultimately the language was so pretty (for lack of a better word) that it held me at a bit of a distance from the story. I never connected as fully with the characters as I'd hoped to, so emotionally the book didn't just didn't quite hit home with me.
I loved the wit and whimsy of the story and the creative mash-up of various fairy tale conventions that appear here. But in spite of those things I found it pretty easy to put this book down between readings.
I ultimately can't help feeling that this book was pitched more to the adult in me than the kid. There are DEFINITELY young readers who will love this story and find it wholly absorbing. I think , though, that a lot of kids will feel that they aren't really connected to the characters, and some will get bogged down by the sheer volume of text in the book plus the intricacy of its language.
Those who are NOT impaired by these things, though, will witness some truly wonderful, wonderful inventiveness with words, spun by an unmistakably talented writer. For that reason I'm giving this book 4 stars, though I am tempted (for "kid-friendliness" and emotional-connectedness reasons) to give it 3.
Regardless of all this numbers-rating stuff, I would very much like to see what other middle grade tricks Cat Valente has up her sleeve.(less)
While I think it could have been tighter in places, this is a solid, engaging, and suspenseful story that I think kids will definitely enjoy and teach...moreWhile I think it could have been tighter in places, this is a solid, engaging, and suspenseful story that I think kids will definitely enjoy and teachers may find creative ways to use in their classrooms. This is ultimately a story in which kids have zero adults to help them and have to act both creatively and responsibly in order to escape a very dangerous situation. In order to survive within the camp and escape the encroaching fire, Luke and his friends draw on their knowledge of both science and gadgetry to create some truly clever contraptions. As such, I can see this book making a fun addition to math and science lessons.
Luke, Theo, and Callie are intelligent and resourceful kids. They are not, however, without flaws, which I think made their characters seem considerably more real. Callie is frequently cranky. Luke is impulsive, fidgety, and easily-distracted. While nowhere in the book is it stated that he has ADHD, kids familiar with its symptoms will recognize Luke’s struggles and see ways in which they sometimes help (and sometimes hinder) his actions in the book. (less)