Breadcrumbs Blog Tour- Interview with Anne Ursu

Anne, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed on TheReadingZone blog. I am currently a high school teacher (former middle school teacher), so I don’t read a lot of middle grade novels these days. However, I have been sharing Breadcrumbs with EVERYONE I know. On the first day of school I gave my ARC to one rising sophomore, with a waiting list after her. I know it will be a big hit with my students. I am dying to know what inspired the book. Did the characters come first, or was it the story?

Thank you so much; I’m so happy to hear that! I love that older kids are reading the book. I think reading levels should always begin with a number and end with the words “and up.”

I was actually inspired originally by the fairy tale of “The Snow Queen.” I’d never read it as a child, and when I finally did I was struck by the story of a boy and a girl who are best friends until, one day, the boy changes. This happens all the time when you’re a kid—you lose friends as you grow. But in this case, the girl decides she’s going to get her friend back. I loved that.

Have you always loved fairy tales? Did you find it easier or harder to write with the fairy tale world in mind? In other words, did you feel the already-created worlds fenced you in, or did they leave you free to write even more?

I adored fairy tales when I was young. I had this anthology of Grimm that was my dad’s from when he was a kid, and I read it over and over. I can still remember what that book felt like in my hands. This might be why I think “woods” when I think fairy-tale-world.

When I first read “The Snow Queen,” I actually thought I wouldn’t be able to do a retelling because the adventures Gerda goes on when she’s trying to find Kai are pretty random, and I just didn’t find them that interesting. It was some time before I remembered that part of the deal of writing fiction is you get to do whatever you want.  The fantasy world in Breadcrumbs could have been anything, really—and I decided it would be a fairy-tale world with an Anderson-like feel to it. But I still got to do whatever I wanted in the world—sample from fairy tales and myth, and write my own fairy tales,
too. It was very freeing in the long run.

What was it like to reference so many classic, well-loved books? Did you include your own favorites? And what is your all-time favorite children’s book?

The references to other books came pretty naturally—I knew I wanted Hazel to be a reader, that she would interpret her world through books she’s read, because those stories are really part of the fabric of her universe, and a part of how she connects with other people. And of course this meant that Hazel would really be interpreting her world through books I read and loved. Some were favorites from when I was a kid—A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth. Others are books I love now, like The Golden Compass, When You Reach Me, The Wall and the Wing, and of course Harry Potter.

As for my all-time favorite book, that’s a great question. I have one shelf of books that I saved from when I was a kid—on it are some of the Little House books, Betsy-Tacy, Noel Streatfeild’s Shoes books, A Wrinkle in Time, Understood Betsy, and all of the Anne of Green Gables books. I think Anne of Green Gables probably has to be my life-long favorite, and has certainly formed how I interpret my world. Anne Shirley knew what was important: finding kindred spirits, places that had scope for the imagination, and, of course, spelling your name with an “e.”

Yes!  Anne and I are kindred spirits.  I am a huge fan of L.M. Montgomery.  My Anne and Emily books are some of my most prized possessions!

How do you write? Are you an outliner or a fly-by-the-seat of your pants writer?

By the seat of your pants is the only way to fly! I wish I were an outliner—I think it would save me a lot of time. But I tend to figure out a story by writing it. Sometimes this works, and everything falls into place. Sometimes it’s a disaster. The original draft of The Siren Song, the second book in my trilogy, was a lumpy, sad wreck of a thing, and after I handed in the draft to my editor I’d wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks. During one of these middle-of-the-night sessions I finally figured out how to fix the book—and it involved deleting and completely rewriting the first 200 pages. Which I did. You would think this would be enough to get me to outline. But if you keep learning from experience, how could you ever repeat the same mistakes?

So true!  Now for the most important question: what is your favorite writing snack?

Popcorn. Airpopped, shellacked in I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter spray and salt. It’s the key to my productivity. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Anne, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me!  I hope we hear a lot more about Breadcrumbs over the next few months!

On Tuesday, 10/4 at 8pm EDT  Anne Ursu (@anneursu) and Bigger than a Bread Box author Laurel Snyder (@LaurelSnyder) will participate in a chat hosted by the incomparable Paul W. Hankins (@PaulWHankins), called “Magic is Real: Magic, Fantasy, and Realism in Middle Grade” under the hashtag #magicisreal.  Be sure to stop by and join in! 

Additional Breadcrumbs Blog Tour Stops

Tuesday, 9/27 – Review and Book Giveaway at Mundie Kids
Wednesday, 9/28 – Review and Skype Giveaway at Great Kid Books
Wednesday, 9/28 – Book Giveaway at 5 Minutes for Books
Thursday, 9/29 – Interview at Bildungsroman
Friday, 9/30 – Review, Guest Post, and Book Giveaway at Bookalicious
Saturday, 10/1 – Interview and Skype Giveaway at Kid Lit Frenzy
Sunday, 10/2 – Review, Interview, and Book Giveaway at The Reading Zone
Monday, 10/3 – Guest Post at Galleysmith
Tuesday 10/4 – Review at Galleysmith
Tuesday, 10/4 – Guest Post, Review, and Book Giveaway at The Book Smugglers
Wednesday, 10/5 – Review and Illustrator Interview at A Backwards Story
Thursday, 10/6 – Guest Post at The Mod Podge Bookshelf
Friday, 10/7 – Interview at Book Rat

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (Review and Giveaway)

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is a love song to book lovers.  I first heard about it when a few of my Tweeps mentioned it on Twitter.  When I was lucky enough to receive an ARC from the publisher, I set my other books aside and sank into my couch with it.  A few hours later, I struggled to leave Ursu’s world behind in order to be a functional member of society again.  It’s that good.  Enchanting, heartfelt, sincere, and magical are the only words I can use to describe  Breadcrumbs.

A modern retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, Breadcrumbs is the story of Hazel and Jack.  Best friends their entire lives, they are inseparable.  That is until, something happens and Jack begins to change.  No one else notices anything different about Jack and when Hazel tries to point it out, she is only told that sometimes boys and girls grow apart as they grow up.  Luckily for Jack, Hazel doesn’t see this as a valid reason for his sudden coldness and distance.

Hazel finds herself drawn into a fairy tale world full of magic, witches, enchanted flowers, and spells.  I found myself utterly enchanted by Hazel.  She is a real (non-white!) girl experiencing the growing pains of early adolescence.  She is struggling to understand her parents’ divorce.  She has been forced to transfer to a regular public school rather than the creative arts schools she previously attended.  And she doesn’t fit in with new classmates but she is unwilling to compromise her self in order to fit in.

And the geekiness!  Ursu has created a love song for bookworms with Breadcrumbs.  Hazel is a book lover and she views the world through the lens of the books she has read and loved.  Harry Potter, Madeline L’Engle, Rebecca Stead, The Golden Compass, and many more in between.  I loved the obvious and not-so-obvious mentions of books that shaped my own childhood.  Breadcrumbs is just magical.

Highly, highly recommended.  This is being marketed as a middle grade book but I handed it to some of my sophomores and they are raving about it.  I think this is a book the will leap across the divides of gender and age.  It’s a book that should be in all classroom libraries.  The writing is poetic and brilliant and the story is one that wraps you up in its arms and doesn’t let you go until you reach the last page.  Get this one now!  You will want to own a copy before the Newbery Award is awarded this winter.  ;)

Interested in winning a copy of Breadcrumbs?  Walden Pond Press has kindly offered a copy for one reader of the blog!  Simply comment on this post by 10/7 in order to be entered.  Be sure to leave your name and an email address where you can be reached in the event that you win!

What I Will Be Looking for at BEA!

On Wednesday I will be heading into the city for BEA.  This will be my second year at the convention and I am looking forward to actually meeting some people this year.  (Are you going to be at BEA?  Leave a comment with your email address if you want to meet up and say hi!)

I am looking forward to networking and meeting fellow bloggers, but I am also looking forward to the authors and publishers.  It’s always fun to see the new and upcoming titles.  I will be keeping my eye out for a few galleys. I discussed BEA with my classes, and they placed requests for galleys I absolutely, positively must be on the lookout for. I’m pretty sure it’s under penalty of death. :)

I love Anna Godberson’s The Luxe series so I am hoping to pick up a copy of her newest, Bright Young Things, set in the 1920′s. (Harper)

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Harper) sounds amazing. It is set in a world where love is considered a disease. Sounds a bit dystopian, so you know I want to take a look at it.

The Magnificent Twelve: The Call by Michael Grant (HarperCollins) has been getting rave reviews on Twitter from Paul W. Hankins. I also love Grant’s dystopian series, so I imagine this will be just as good.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke (Little, Brown) sounds amazing. Dark fairy tales that come to life? Sign me up!

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher (Dial) is a sequel to Incarceron. Enough said. Where do I sign up?

I have some avid James Patterson fans in my class. Witch & Wizard: The Gift by James Patterson (Little, Brown) is high on my must-get list because they are begging for it! The first novel is the series is making the rounds through my classroom right now.

Hush by Eishes Chayil (Walker) sounds a bit old for my readers, but I am drawn to the description. Written pseudonymously, it tells the story of a teenager who confronts her memories of and guilt about abuse she witnessed in her Hasidic community.

Matched by Ally Condie (Dutton). Since we finished The Giver earlier this year, dystopian novels have been huge in my classes. I introduced this title and had kids salivating over it. Another “must-get” in the eyes of my 6th graders.

We just finished our Holocaust unit, so Annexed by Sharon Dogar (Houghton Mifflin) immediately caught my students’s attention. Annexed is fictionalized account that follows Peter van Pels from the attic he shared with Anne Frank to Auschwitz.

Dystopian? We love it. Zombies? Their popularity is growing. Needless to say, the gimme gimme’s started when I talked about The Enemy by Charlie Higson (Disney-Hyperion). The Enemy is a dystopian novel where teenagers older than 16 are turned into flesh-eating zombies.

The Limit by Kristen Landon (Aladdin) caught my eye because it sounds a bit like historical fiction, yet it is a fantasy. The story is set in a world in which children are taken to “workhouses” when their families exceed their monthly debt limits.

Gross plots always catch my students’s attention. Needless to say, they were clamoring for more information about Thaw by Rick Jasper (Carolrhoda Lab). All we know is the short jacket description, which sounds awesome. In the story, the cryogenically frozen bodies of 27 federal inmates thaw out—and disappear—after a blackout. Ew. Creepy. And I can’t wait to take a look at it!

Wendy Mass is one of my all-time favorite middle grade authors. Her books rarely stay on my shelf and I’m sure her newest title will be no different. The Candymakers (Little, Brown) is a mystery involving four children and a candy contest. Sounds a bit like Willy Wonka, eh?

And of course, I MUST MUST MUST get a copy of Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (sequel to Chains). I have been waiting desperately for this one for over a year!

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin (Dial) sounds amazing. Two girls become as close as sisters, but one doesn’t know the other is a fairy in disguise, sent here to trap the girl into fulfilling a promise made by her ancestors.

Those are the galleys I will be keeping my eye out for. If you are going to BEA, what will you be looking for? Are there any books I missed?

Celebrating Jon Scieszka

Today, many bloggers in the kidlitosphere are taking a moment to thank our National Ambassador of Children’s Literature, the incomparable Jon Scieszka.  I did not have a lot of experience with Mr. Scieszka’s books when I began teaching.  I remembered reading (and loving) his The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as a middle schooler. But I did not realize his utter power in my classroom until his latest memoir was published; the hysterical, over-the-top, unbelievable Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing up Scieszka.

I am the oldest of six kids. When I bought Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing up Scieszka for my classroom library, I started reading it right away. It was like I was reading about my own family. I laughed so hard at times that there were tears running down my face!  Like Scieszka, I went to Catholic grammar school, came from a large family, and may have tied up a sibling or two.

The result was almost identical when I read a few passages out loud to my students later that week. Suddenly, even my most dormant readers were begging for the book.  It was passed around from student to student, with whispers of “You gotta read the story on pg. 22!”  It was a magic book with the ability to cross all gender lines.  So thank you, Mr. Scieszka, for creating books that my 6th graders love and adore.  They adore them so much that they literally read them to pieces and I need to purchase new copies fairly frequently.  And you know what?  That’s ok by me!

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