Archive for September, 2011

VERY VERY Special Guest Post: Anne Ursu, on divorce and Breadcrumbs

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Last week I issued a challenge, in my off-the-cuff way, to the authors of some other new books (see below) that I admire. I asked these authors to blog or post somewhere about how divorce was an element in their new books.

Today I received a response from Anne Ursu, about how divorce is (and isn’t) a part of her new amazing book, Breadcrumbs, and about how it is (and isn’t) a part of her life.

I am honored by this response– by the thought and honesty it took to write this. I think you should read it. I think you’ll be glad you did:


The first thing I should say is my parents have been happily married for over 40 years. I remember being in elementary school and looking at the school directory and seeing kids who had a different entry for each parent. I didn’t have any friends whose parents were divorced, and it seemed so strange to me. How could two people love each other enough to get married, to have a child, and then break up?

Thirty years later, I still don’t know the answer to this.  And I feel odd, reading all of these beautiful stories about children of divorce, because I never was one. But my little boy is.

But I should start with the book. Breadcrumbs is a contemporary retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen.” It takes place in Minneapolis and is the story of eleven-year-old Hazel whose very best friend in the world is her next-door neighbor Jack. One day, Jack changes and is cruel to her. Soon afterwards, he disappears—taken into the woods by a mysterious woman in white. And Hazel decides to go after him.

When I first started writing, Hazel had two parents, but somehow over the course of writing the first chapter, I realized the father had left a few months before. Hazel’s newly-single mother was harried and needed her daughter to be a little more grown-up than Hazel was ready to be. Meanwhile Hazel had just learned that the ground beneath her feet could shift at any time, and she was still stumbling.

It made sense for the character, as did the fact that she was the adopted Indian child of two white parents. As did her having a single mom typing away at her desk who can’t quite see her girl because her eyes have so much else to take in. I wasn’t setting out to write about divorce—I wanted it to be one of the many factors that informed who Hazel was at the beginning of the book, one of the things that kept her needing her best friend Jack and the space they created together so badly, and one of the things that would cause her to pack up a backpack and head into a fairy-tale woods after him. And one of the things that might tempt her to stay.

That’s the thing about the real kid heroes of fantasies—there’s some reason they need to go on the journey in the first place. There is something broken in their lives. And nothing but magic can fix it.

When I first started writing this book, I was living with my husband and just-three-year-old boy in Cleveland. When I handed in the final draft, I’d just finished setting up a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis with my son. His father stayed in Cleveland.

I wrote about a harried single mother, then I became one. I have to tell my boy I can’t play because I need to work, do the dishes, call the insurance company, or because I’m simply too tired. And this will be one of the things that forms his whole life, this living with a single, self-employed mom and all that entails. I made this choice, and when I did I vowed that my life would belong to him. But there are so many things thrust in front of my eyes every day, and I am afraid I will look at him one day and find there are wounds only magic can fix.

I wonder how it will look to my boy when he’s older, what stories he will tell. I wonder how I will explain it to him when he is old enough to ask. It is impossible to do this right, this parenting thing. We make mistakes, every day. We struggle and we fail. A lot. And both the successes and the failures are part of what forms our children as they journey forward. And there’s so much else, too, so much we have no control of—when we’re not looking they could get in a boat and sail off to the wild things, sneak up into the attic and uncover a wish-granting breadbox, head off into an uncaring fairy-tale woods in ill-considered shoes.

Hazel is not much like my four-year-old boy, who thrives around people, whose energy could power a small city, who is filled with so much joy that sometimes it runs over. But I put my love and fears for him into the making of her all the same—the divorce I did not see coming, the way he could not control himself in groups of other kids, and the way some preschools cared for him for who he was and others shamed him for the same thing. I did not know how much more of that there was to come this year, nor that he would be diagnosed with Asperger’s. Still, I felt something. I looked at his path ahead and saw all the broken things there. I couldn’t stop them from breaking, and some of the things would be beyond my power to fix. All I could do is love him, fiercely, so much that it spilled over into this story of a dreamy, awkward eleven-year-old girl. I wrote a book that says that growing up is hard, that it wounds as it pushes us forward. And I tried to say that is hard as it can be, there’s nothing a kid isn’t up to. That he, himself, is magic. And that’s all that matters.



Tuesday, September 27th, 2011


Here we are! Today is the day!  Bigger than a Bread Box is officially a book, out in the world, roaming free. Hopping trains and jumping puddles.

But what I am really floored by is how my friends are celebrating with me.  This AMAZING cake is being consumed by Mr. Sharpe’s class in Michigan.

In California and New York, and even at GOOGLE (well, I’m not sure that’s just for me, but I’ll take it…)

Here in Atlanta, we’re having a party on Friday at 7 pm, to celebrate.  I will cry, and laugh, and drink  some wine, and eat some snack cakes.  You should come too!

Now I am off to take a BAWTH, because that is not what I usually do at 10:09 on a Tuesday, so it seems a nice way to celebrate.

I hope you like my book!

DC Dispatch…

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

I’m in DC right now, sitting in my sister’s apartment in my PJs.  Contemplating coffee, and maybe some quiet reading time before I head on over to the National Book Festival. Just hanging out. It’s nice.

I came into town for the SLJ Leadership Summit, which was really an outstanding conference.  It made me think about conferences, generally, and about how they’re just too big.  This summit is a different model– a manageable group of people gather, in one BIG room, and learn with and from each other.  Everyone can attend everything (no competing events) and the conference has a true focus to it. This year it was “the new world of reading.”  So there were some really fascinating wide-ranging conversations, about what that means. People with different ideas and perspectives, who’d all been hearing the same panels, were actually in a position to fully engage and debate. More than any other event like this I’ve attended, I felt like every single person present REALLY wanted to be there, and was listening.  Which made me listen better, and get more out of it.  I didn’t feel like I was author, peddling my book. I felt like a true participant, and that was SO in keeping with the themes of the summit–connectedness, new ways to learn, etc.  I’ve been talking for awhile about creating some sort of southeastern children’s author’s writing conference.  This gave me a lot of ideas for what I  want that to be, and how to make it happen.

It didn’t hurt any that the conference also had AMAZING food.

And of course, I also got to see friends, which was wonderful.  And I got to meet, in person, so many online friends I’ve been getting to know for so long.  I got to tour First Book, which blew my mind (and if you don’t know about it, you should!) I made new friends, and took a long walk in the rain, and had dinner with my family, and it has been a wonderful, wonderful trip.

But mostly, this morning, I’m thinking about how things are often too big. I am thinking about how it is so easy to MEASURE the world right now–in attendees or hits or followers or whatever. I think this constant measuring leads us to PUSH things to keep getting bigger.  I’m thinking about how sometimes, the very best thing is NOT to grow so much.  I’m thinking about “just right.”

Thank you, School Library Journal, for getting me thinking.

Speaking of divorce…

Sunday, September 18th, 2011


Part of the reason I’m interested in hearing divorce stories right now is that I’ve been reading a few. We’ve got a nice crop of books (besides mine) coming out this fall that revolve around (or near, or apart from)  separated families.  I’ve been working my way (delightedly so far) through them.

I’m not sure if this happens every year, or if I’m just overly watchful for such things right now because of Bread Box, but I find it interesting to read these books, and think about how each author describes the experience of divorce or separation differently.  Some people work the family issues into other plotlines. Some set the divorce in the background.  In several cases, the separation gets wrapped up in a magical adventure.  But none of them are what you might call an “issue book.”   And all are pretty different from one another.

Just in case people weren’t aware, I thought I’d post the books here (above, duh).  Once I’ve read them all I plan to write something about this. If you have thoughts on these books, or divorce in Kidlit, generally, I’d love to hear from you.  If you know of other new books on the topic, please share!  I really hope that someday I can sit down with these authors (full disclosure, several of them are friends) and talk about this.

If only we could do it as a “panel” somewhere. Hmmmm…




What we talk about when we talk about divorce…

Saturday, September 17th, 2011


Bigger than a Bread Box is  about divorce/separation.  It’s also about a magical vintage bread box that grants wishes, and about a kid adjusting to life in a new school, and about poetry and snack cakes. But most of all, it’s about parents who are having trouble with each other and their daughter trying to make sense of that.  I know this sounds “sad” and “heavy” and “like a big downer.”  But it’s important to me.

Here’s why.

Grownups control the way divorce gets discussed.  But kids  experience it too.  Grownups really need to believe, when splitting up, that “divorce is for the best” or that “we’ll all come through it okay”  because “kids are so resilient.”  Their need to believe these things affects the way they talk about divorce… and the way they remember it too.

But even when divorces are for the best (they often are), and even when the kids will be fine (they usually will) the experience for the kids can be painful, or scary, or confusing. Of course it can. But the kids don’t want to stress how that’s true, because they are often so aware of the pain their parents are going through. They don’t want to make it worse.  So they keep it inside, a lot. Or they act out in other ways.  (or they grow up and write books about it, I guess)

At the same time, kids also know that they aren’t supposed to ENJOY the divorce exactly , the two bedrooms, the pizza nights with dad, the extra attention, the double summer vacations. Because something “bad” is happening.  So it’s like there’s this acceptable range of emotion–sad but not too sad.  Weird, right?  When the split itself is a huge and individual experience. Different for each family, each kid.

I didn’t set out to write an issue book at all. I set out to write a book about a magical box.  But then the box turned complicated, and suddenly, the book was about divorce.  When I realized that I tried really hard to make it particular, personal, detailed. I tried not to make it heavyhanded, but to root it in character, experience. I tried to recall both the hard and the good.

I wrote this book inspired by my own childhood experience of divorce. It’s mine.  It’s my own very specific memories, as a kid, squashed together with my adult understanding of the world, and my imagination.  I did the best I could.  But now I can’t stop wondering about what YOU might have written.

And so–what I would love love love is to hear from you, from all of you.  I wonder what your thoughts/impressions/memories of divorce are?  Start with the smallest details. Can you remember anything from the day you “found out?”  Are there, maybe, things you really enjoyed about the experience?  Was there a moment of acceptance? Was there conflict? Did things get scary?  Did your parents work it out in the end, or remarry? Has it affected your adult life?  Did you switch schools? Move? Did your parents date after that?  Did you wish your father would marry your pretty Hebrew School teacher? (I did)

Will you tell me a story?

Or maybe you’d rather share your impressions of someone else’s family? Maybe you watched your best friend go through a hard time? Maybe you read about divorce in books, and worried for your own family? Maybe your parents fought and you wished they’d split up?

Please consider posting something to your own blog about this. If you do,maybe you’ll also kindly include the cover to my book (because hey! I have a book coming out, and I need all the help I can get), and  link back to this post?  Then I’ll post a link to your blogs right here, and we can all see what we see…

When I told some people I was going to try this, the response (with the exception of a few voices) was NO!  People said it would be too negative.  But I have to believe there are people like me,  who want to share these memories, these thoughts.  That our grownup selves haven’t entirely overwhelmed our childhood memories…

Prove me right?

Kelly has posted a truly amazing story over at THE MIDDLE IS THE BEST PLACE TO BE– about how a grownup remembers what she wanted as a kid, and talks about what it feels like to get your wish.

Over at The Furnace, Madelyn has given us the color of her memories, the flavor of those years, and made me want to cry, remembering our own cornbread dinners.

At Aqua Fortis, a moving description of how books helped Sarah not just escape, but also return when her parents split up.

At A Mom’s SPare Time, Ami has mananged to weave a (generous, thank you) review of my book into a story about her parents’ divorce, which I find truly surprising. fairly inspiring,  and maybe totally brilliant.

Colby Sharp shares a story from a clear-eyed brave young students, and makes me want to cry.

Kurtis, the author of Tanglewood Terror (see above) chimes in.

At Saints and Spinners, Farida posts about  small pleasures (3 sets of grandparents) and the pains (secret keeping).

And while you’re here, stop and read the comments. Some touching things down there.


Bigger than a Bread Box supplemental materials…

Friday, September 16th, 2011



Book Clubs!

In case you’re reading the book, and would be interested in some additional materials, we’ve developed a study guide for classrooms and homeschoolers, here! You’ll find study questions, writing exercises, and an extended bio there.

And, for more general use, there’s a fun Q&A posted at Books a Million, perfect for book clubs!

Defending Darkness…

Friday, September 9th, 2011

When my four year old refuses to go to sleep, because he’s afraid of the darkness, what do I say? Do I turn on the lights for him? Of course not. “Go to sleep,” I tell him.  ”There’s nothing to be afraid of. Dream bright dreams.”

What does he say to that? “Stay with me. It isn’t scary when you’re here.”

And because I’m a huge sucker, I do stay. I sit beside him in the dark room. In about thirty-seven seconds, he’s snoring.  Of course he is. Because the scary thing isn’t the darkness at all. The scary thing is that it makes him feel alone.

Kids are people, and people are messed up sometimes. Not just kids who’ve been traumatized, but all kids end up a mess of one sort or another. Don’t you remember high school?

Dark books can be a mirror in that mess. They can decode and demystify. They can undercut the aloneness. Sometimes, I suppose, they can also amplify it. But puzzling out what the dark mess means (or doesn’t) is important. Figuring out how to be a person even when there’s darkness within or around you—that takes a willingness to stare the shadows down.  Leaving the lights on won’t teach a kid to handle the shadows.

We don’t need to do away with dark books. We need to write better ones. And we also need to be honest with ourselves about our children. We need to believe that in the end, they’ll be okay. Naturally, we need to pay attention when they’re not, but we need to accept that if there’s a real problem, it’s not a book that caused it.

And when there is darkness (which there will be), I think it is a good thing to keep our kids company. To sit with them, keeping the aloneness at bay, so that they can learn to sleep. So that they can be ready when we trust ourselves to slip quietly down the stairs.

So that we can be ready too.


School Library Journal!!!

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Rebecca’s parents have been struggling to get along. Suddenly, Mom packs up 12-year-old Rebecca and toddler Lew to drive to Atlanta to stay with her mother. Rebecca is furious and misses her friends, school, and, most of all, her dad. In the attic, she discovers a bread box, at the same time missing the gulls in Baltimore and wishing there were some in Atlanta. She looks inside to find that two birds have appeared. She soon figures out that wishes that can fit in the box magically materialize, but those that can’t, such as going home or getting her parents back together, are not granted. As often happens with wishes, things go awry; all of the items she has wished for–money, an iPod, a birthday gift for her mother–belonged to someone else and she is accused of stealing. Snyder weaves in her magic without letting it take over and become the focus. Rebecca’s choices are not always understandable, but her heartache is. The slightly over-the-top resolution will be both scary and satisfying to readers. This is solid fiction for the elementary crowd. It doesn’t rely on one-dimensional bad guys and doesn’t let readers think that the good guys are flawless.–Carol A. Edwards, Denver Public Library, CO