Today we are thrilled to host an exclusive Q&A with Anne Ursu, author of Breadcrumbs, our May middle grade book of the month. Anne shares her journey through the writing of Breadcrumbs, offers some advice for aspiring writers, and even spills the beans on her favorite pizza toppings and books!
And don’t forget to check below for bonus reviews of Breadcrumbs from two of our young readers.
I love that Breadcrumbs is modern interpretation of a classic fairytale. Many people believe that fairytales tell the story of the human heart – that they are the language our hearts speaks. What role have fairytales played in your life and what do you think is important about them?
I grew up reading fairy tales. My dad had this great collection of books from when he was a kid, and I read the Grimm volume again and again. When you’re a kid, the world is a strange and unfathomable place and you’re trying to figure it out, all the time. And it gets so much bigger, every day. In much the same way that myths have helped cultures make sense of their world and give it order, fairy tales give kids a language and a system that makes it all much less unknowable.
How did you come-up with the idea for Breadcrumbs?
I was reading some different fairy tales one day, and happened upon “The Snow Queen.” That story is about a young girl and boy who are best friends in the world until the boy gets a shard of magic mirror in his eye. He’s suddenly mean to the girl, and then he disappears suddenly with the Snow Queen, and the girl decides to go rescue him. I was really struck by the story–it seemed to really be talking about friendship and growing up and how sometimes the process of growing up is the process of losing friends. Sometimes your friendships even end overnight. Except in this case, the girl decides to go get her friend back. I loved this idea, and I wanted to tell the story with real contemporary kids. I wanted to use the skeleton of the fairy tale to explore issues of friendship, change, and loss.
What character do you relate the most to in the book?
Oh, it would have to be Hazel. I think we spend so much time trying to get into the heads of our protagonists we can’t help but relating to them. I was not quite like her as a girl–though I read all the time. My last protagonist, Charlotte (in The Cronus Chronicles)–was completely different from Hazel (and from me as a girl)–very sassy, very disgruntled. But I related to her, too. I think we might not start out with our protagonists like us, but by the time we’ve finished we’ve spent so much time with them they’ve informed who we are.
What was your favorite scene/part to write?
There’s a page at the end where Hazel tries to bring Jack back out of the frozen state he’s in. Going in, I had no idea how she was going to save him. I knew she had to convince him–part of him had to want to be free, because part of him had chosen to be frozen–but I didn’t know how she could possibly do that. And the things she ends up telling him seemed to just come from her. I thought it was going to be incredibly hard to write, but it just sort of all came out, and writing it–it just felt right. That was my favorite part of writing the book. (That, and finishing the book, of course.)
You have written for both adults and children, what would you say is different about writing for a younger audience?
I think there’s more freedom in writing for young people. They don’t have the same expectations about what books should and shouldn’t do, so you have so much more room to play. You can really do a lot with form–with structure and narration and point of view. Children, too, don’t have the same attitude toward genre, so there’s so many more stories you can tell. Being able to write fantasy and fairy tales allows you to ask a lot of questions–and also, of course, have fun doing it.
What advice would you give to aspiring middle grade writers?
I think the real key to middle novels is in character. It can be easy to get lost in concepts, worlds, plot–but none of this is really going to resonate with a reader without a real emotional connection to the protagonist, and without a protagonist who has a real process of growth and change over the course of the book. I think the question for a middle grade author isn’t necessarily What story do I want to tell? but Whose story do I want to tell? And then you go from there.
Private concert: who’s playing?
I might be too shy to have a private concert, but if pressed, I would love to watch Bono sing “One.” I would still be shy, but would probably get over it pretty quickly.
Pineapple, mushroom, and onion. Oddly, no one will eat this with me
Book you can’t stop re-reading?
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Kills me, every time.
Living or dead, who would you like to have dinner with?
Warm weather, a pool, and a stack of books to read.
Look at your desk right now. Name five things within reach.
Mother’s Day flowers, a valentine my little boy made me, a lamp with a burned out bulb, a pile of mail that needs attention, and a bust of Poseidon carved out of floral foam.
Thanks for stopping by, Anne!
“Over the last two weeks, I read the book Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. I think people who loved THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA will love this book too. Ursu also has a White Witch character in her book, although this White Witch does not have a spear that turns other characters into stone. I loved this book because it is a modern day fairy tale, and I love that genre. Anne Ursu did a fantastic job of bringing the fairy tale world and my world together.
If you want to know what happens, you will have to read this book! If I could change anything about BREADCRUMBS, I wouldn’t change anything. Anne Ursu did a great job at writing this book. Have fun reading!”
Drew, Age 10
“Breadcrumbs was a really great book. I liked that some parts of the story connected when I didn’t expect them to. For example, Ben, someone she met in the forest that had his own problems, ended up being connected to Lucas and Nina, whom she met later and discovered they had secrets of their own. A few things were confusing, like a woodsman and his daughter’s red ballet slippers. I knew there was something magical about them, but I didn’t get what it had to do with the story. Still, I would recommend Breadcrumbs for anyone who likes fantasy and adventure. I couldn’t put it down.”
by Celeste, Age 10