• It’s the birth date of Albert Payson Terhune (1872–1942) Gray Dawn; Lad: A Dog.
  • In 1883, Royal Canadian Dragoons and The Royal Canadian Regiment are formed. Read The RCMP Musical Ride by Maxwell Newhouse.
  • It’s Crossword Puzzle Day, in honor of the first crossword puzzle, created by Arthur Wynne and published in the newspaper New York World in 1913.
  • The animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiers in movie theaters in 1937. Read a beautiful edition of the Brothers Grimm version of Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, translated by Randall Jarrell.

December is Read a New Book Month; many are hunting for new books not only to read but to buy for the holidays. Because of the robust young adult market, those authors who write books for fourth through sixth graders have been a bit overlooked. Fortunately, this is not true of our book of the day, Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, one of my favorite books from 2011.

In Breadcrumbs, Ursu skillfully develops a friendship story between Hazel, adopted from India, and Jack, her neighbor. When Hazel’s father leaves, her mother has to put Hazel in the public school, where she and Jack ride the bus together and play at recess. Otherwise Hazel has trouble in school; she daydreams about great quests and adventures—roles that she and Jack play out in their time together. Jack is her anchor at the school, the only person who makes her feel that she fits in.

Then the story shifts. Ursu slowly brings these characters into a version of the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Snow Queen.” A piece of magic mirror, falling from the sky, changes the way Jack looks at everything. He views his best friend with disdain; his heart freezes. And, finally, the Snow Queen arrives with a sled pulled by wolves to bring him into her icy kingdom.

Devastated by Jack’s rejection, Hazel still hopes that someday they will be friends again. When he vanishes, she gathers all her courage to set out, entering a magical forest to bring him back home again. On this journey, she encounters many of Hans Christian Andersen’s characters. And, I am happy to report that finally the Little Match Girl, under Ursu’s pen, meets a happier fate. (I have hated the Andersen ending to that story my entire life!)

For anyone who knows the Andersen stories, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, When You Reach Me, or any of the other books Ursu references, Breadcrumbs provides a wonderful romp through children’s literature. But the reader can be completely ignorant of her scaffolding and still find this story of friendship and betrayal, love and loss, compelling in its own terms. It is one of those books that readers devour to find out what happens next. And the imagery and language are sublime.

I can think of no better book to pick up on a cold winter’s eve. This is one of those books that I am grateful to have read as a new title—I know I will be going back to it many times again in the future.

Here’s a passage from Breadcrumbs:

She had stepped into the woods in the park and landed in an entirely different place. She knew this might happen. She’d been to Narnia, Wonderland, Hogwarts, Dictionopolis. She had tessered, fallen through the rabbit hole, crossed the ice bridge into the unknown world beyond. Hazel knew this world. And it should have made this easier.

But it did not.


Originally posted December 21, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Family, Friendship, Multicultural, School
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Breadcrumbs
One year ago: The Dark Is Rising


  1. Jamie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this book. It sounds wonderful and I’ve added it to my “must read” list … I’m thinking it will make a perfect mid-winter bedtime story for me and my eight year-old daughter. :)

  2. Anita says:

    Jamie: It definitely will; glad to introduce it to you.

  3. I’m a huge fan of HCA and when I first read about this book, I rushed to place an order before it was released. It is right near the top of my favorite reads this year, second only to OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Snyder. And, yes, I will read it again this winter along with Susan Cooper’s THE DARK IS RISING et al

  4. Anita says:

    Clara: Those are my top two novels as well this year. It has been a good year for middle grade fiction. Horray!

  5. Jenny says:

    Loved this book too. Now I’m trying to convince my daughter to read it. (She won’t read anything I recommend. Maybe I should just start leaving books in her room without commenting on them.)

  6. Anita says:

    Jenny: Leaving books out or open sometimes work. Also, reverse psycholog! You think the book “too advanced” for her….

  7. Beverly says:

    Thank you. This gets added to my list of books to read. Sounds wonderful. A book to get lost in.

  8. G. Perry says:

    All-righty then. I just got hands on Breadcrumbs this morning. (I can see I’m the only male-messy-toast-eater here, so no, not my Great Harvest bread crumbs.)

    I’ve also ordered up OKAY FOR NOW.

    Stand by for a report from the reading front..

  9. Anita says:

    Gordon: Glad to hear from you — I always love to read your comments.

  10. Deb Tyo says:

    And THIS is why I should take the time EVERY morning to read the Almanac!

    LOVE Breadcrumbs. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

    I am reading this story aloud to my seventh graders. I sent them home for Christmas break at the end of Part One. Hazel is about to enter the woods. “Nooooooo!!!” They wanted to hear more.

    We are also reading Andersen’s The Snow Queen. It has been interesting to listen to their conversations comparing the two texts. (Would it be a surprise if I told you that they love Breadcrumbs so much more! Probably not.)

    Thank you for another great essay on another fantastic book!

  11. Anita says:

    Deb: Thanks for sharing this story about your students. I am not surprised that you love Breadcrumbs more than Andersen!

  12. McCourt says:

    I just listed Okay For Now as my favorite book on our family Christmas letter. So I will definitely check out Breadcrumbs as well. Thanks for the recommendation!

  13. Great review! I just bought this book today along with several others and can’t wait to read it! :)


  14. Bookjeannie says:

    You and Mr. Schu have convinced me. It’s next on my list! Thanks Anita!

  15. Jessica T says:

    Anne Ursu came to my school in the fall for an author visit. It was awesome! My students love Breadcrumbs.

  16. Joanne Toft says:

    Thanks – I have not looked at this one! Wondering if as a read aloud it might push my students to explore some of the other texts. I am always looking for new ways to hook students into reading and making connections between books. I am excited to read this one over winter break.

  17. Kathleen T. says:

    Hi Anita,

    I am always looking for good books to read and recommend for this age group. Parents as well as my 4th and 5th grade book club members will find this title of interest. Current works are also most welcome. I have put it on my list to read!

  18. Barb Keister says:

    I’m in the middle of Breadcrumbs right now and love it! I’ve heard so many good things about this book and it’s all true! Now I need to reread The Snow Queen before I go much further … I always love books that reference other great books!

  19. I love all the comp titles you mentioned so I will have to check this out! Thanks :)

  20. I’m a bit biased, but I love Anne Ursu’s work! I hope kids, parents and librarians who have enjoyed Percy Jackson and the Kane Chronicles check out Anne’s Cronus Chronicles, too.

  21. Anita says:

    Barry, Briana and Barb: Thanks for the comments. The book definitely sends readers back to Andersen, although as I mention in the review I like some of the rewrites better than the original.

  22. Thanks for posting this, Anita. I’m going to give it to myself for Christmas, since THE SNOW QUEEN was my passport into adult life when I was eight years old! And Happy First Day of (snowless) Winter. xo Anne

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