Half a Chance

Once again, it’s time to bring you yet another of the nominees for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. This time, we turn our attention to Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.

Half a Chance is a quick, engaging read that I think will speak to readers in upper elementary grades on through middle school. The setting is appealing, the characters’ adventures may encourage young readers to do some exploring of their own, and their struggles are true to life. Most readers–young and old–are sure to find something to relate to in this book.

Lucy and her family have just moved to a lake house in New Hampshire. Almost immediately, Lucy’s dad, a famous photographer, jets off on a job, leaving Lucy and her mom with the tasks of unpacking and getting to know their new surroundings.

Before Lucy’s father leaves for his trip, he inadvertently gives Lucy both a chance to explore her new home and a way to find out if her photos are really good. Dear old dad is judging a kids’ photo contest–a scavenger hunt of sorts–and Lucy sees this as her chance to prove herself to her father.

Lucy looks for potential photo subjects everywhere, including next door. It is there that she meets Nate, a boy who visits the lake with his family each summer. Nate decides to help Lucy with her photo project and, in the process, introduces her to some of the best parts of her new home. They look for loons and their chicks (and try to figure out a way to protect them), they climb a mountain, and they work together to get the perfect photos for Lucy’s contest.

But one day, in Lucy’s quest for a great photograph, she snaps a shot that reveals more than Nate is ready to see. In it, Nate’s Grandma Lilah looks scared and lost, and her deteriorating memory is right there for everyone to see. Nate doesn’t want Lucy to use the photo in her contest, but Lucy knows that this particular picture is powerful, shows great emotion, and truly captures what Lilah is going through. How can she not use it?

As the summer winds down, Lucy must decide what to do about the contest. Should she enter the photo of Grandma Lilah even though it could damage her friendship with Nate? Should she enter the contest at all, knowing that she could be disqualified for being the daughter of the judge? Will her father ever take her seriously as a photographer? Answer these questions and many more when you read Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.

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Okay…first off, I love the photography contest featured in this book. My hope is that my students read Half a Chance and get inspired to do their own photo scavenger hunt. Maybe I’ll make that a library-based activity for students who read the book. I don’t know yet. I’m still playing around with things in my head, but what an awesome way to integrate literature and visual arts!

Secondly, I think this book could help readers to see and experience the larger world around them. Even Lucy, who usually viewed everything behind a camera lens, realized that some things simply need to be lived. One needs to be in the moment, taking everything in, and not worrying about capturing the perfect photo. (This applies if the photo is for a contest like Lucy’s or…maybe for a Facebook or Instagram post.) A lot of people could take this message to heart.

I also like how Half a Chance featured loons and talked about the many dangers they (and other animals) face in the wild. In this book, the characters decided to do something to spread awareness about loons, their habitats, and how community members could protect these birds. That’s a great example for young readers interested in protecting animals and the environment or just getting involved in their communities in whatever way they can.

Finally, this book takes a look at dementia from a kid’s perspective. (We see a little of what it’s like for Grandma Lilah, but the primary focus is on Nate and Lucy.) When I was a kid, I watched my great-grandmother slowly decline due to Alzheimer’s disease, so this really resonated with me. How great would it have been for me to read about a character going through the same thing? I’m guessing that other readers will be able to see themselves in Nate–wondering when his grandmother just won’t remember him anymore–and this book may help those readers to cope just a little better and look for ways to make this terrifying time easier for their loved ones and those around them.

Half a Chance is an excellent book, and I’m thrilled with its placement on next year’s SC Children’s Book Award nominee list. I hope my students feel the same way.

For more information on this book and other by Cynthia Lord, click here.

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