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.

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip

Sometimes I’m surprised by how much I enjoy a book.  That’s the case with Jordan Sonnenblick’s Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip.  (Those that frequent this blog know that this is not the type of book I normally read.)  Having read one other book by Sonnenblick, Notes from the Midnight Driver, I had a feeling I would like Curveball, but I didn’t know that I would spend an entire Monday evening so engrossed that I would forget to watch How I Met Your Mother.  Only when I finished the book at around 9pm did I realize I had missed one of my favorite shows.  (Luckily, I found out it was a rerun, so I didn’t miss much.)  Curveball was a quick read, and it definitely held my interest.  The storyline was kind of predictable, but I really didn’t mind.  The main character, Peter, was relatable and funny, which is kind of rare in a lot of YA fiction.  (I’ll be the first to admit that many of the male characters I read about are morose, aloof, Mr. Darcy types…and they often have supernatural abilities.  I like that, but it’s sometimes nice to change things up a bit.)  I think Curveball will be an easy sell for male readers, from middle through high school, because of the baseball angle, but there’s really something in this book that all readers, male and female, will enjoy…a good story.

Peter Friedman loves baseball.  He’s all set to become a stud pitcher on the high school baseball team.  Unfortunately, his elbow has other ideas.  The summer after eighth grade, Peter has an accident that forces him to throw all of his dreams of being a star athlete out the window.  What now?  He can’t really be a big-shot baseball player if he can’t, you know, throw a baseball.  Peter’s best friend A.J. seems convinced that Peter will be back in pitching shape before the spring, but Peter knows that it’s not going to happen.  Is there any way for sports to play a part in Peter’s high school life?  Possibly.  And it all starts with an unexpected “gift” from Peter’s grandfather, the most important person in Peter’s life.

Peter knows how much photography means to his grandfather, so he’s worried when, all of a sudden, Gramps gives all his stuff away.  Peter thinks it’s a sign that something is wrong with his grandpa.  He’s probably right, but no one—his mom or his grandfather—wants to admit that there might be a problem.  Peter knows he’s too young to have this worry added to all his other issues—his slow-to-heal injury, his delusional best friend, girls, and finding a place for himself in high school—but he just can’t help it.

Peter finds some happiness in two things:  photography and Angelika.  Photography gives him a connection to his grandfather and an identity at school.  Angelika, the cute, funny girl in his photography class, provides Peter with a confidante, a friend, a partner, and, when he needs it most, a swift kick in the pants.  Even though things seem to be unraveling around him, Angelika is his constant, until she confronts Peter about being honest about his future with baseball and his grandfather’s condition.  Peter is losing his grip, and he’s unprepared for the curveballs life has thrown his way.  Can he figure everything out before he loses everything that really matters?  Read Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip to discover how one guy gets his head back in the game…of life.

For more information on Curveball and other books by Jordan Sonnenblick, visit http://www.jordansonnenblick.com/.