JULY 14:

  • Happy birthday Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) and Laura Numeroff (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie).
  • It’s the birth date of Peggy Parish (1927-1988), author of the Amelia Bedelia series.
  • Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) was born on this day. Read This Land was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie by Elizabeth Partridge.
  • In 1946, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care is published. Read Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee, Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson, and Princess Baby by Karen Katz.
  • Happy Bastille Day to our French friends. Read The Queen of France by Tim Wadham, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton.

One of my most cherished summer memories centers on reading. In it, I’m nine years old, and I have just returned from the Marietta, Ohio, public library with my grandmother and a pile of books. As I settle into a favorite chair to read, I know I will have days of uninterrupted time to go through them. Well, unstructured time for children is rarer these days than it was then, but there are still books that lend themselves to reading in the summer sunlight. This is true of Cynthia Lord’s most recent title, Half a Chance.

Lucy’s family has just arrived in their new home in New Hampshire, situated on a lake. A professional photographer, Lucy’s father not only loves traveling for his work, he also loves to move from house to house. So Lucy is thrown into the summertime community on the lake, one that will vanish when she goes to school in the fall.

She quickly makes friends with Nate, the boy in the cottage next door, and gets swept up with his family and its drama. His grandmother, now too infirm to go out in a boat on the lake, sends Nate and his friends out on Loon Patrol to watch and record the eggs and chicks of the local loon population. Lucy in turn pulls Nate into her project—winning a photography contest for children. Having caught the photography bug from her father, Lucy uses her camera to record the fleeting incidents of her own life. Nate loves helping her set up shots and comes up with ideas. Unfortunately, a major obstacle exists in Lucy’s plan. Her father has been selected as the only judge for this event.

All of the chapters reveal aspects of the photographic process; the book delights in the unique beauty of small-town New England communities. And just as she did in Rules, Cynthia Lord conveys in a way children can understand the dynamics of those caught in family tragedy. For as Nate’s grandmother descends into dementia, everyone copes in different ways.

Beautifully written and executed, this gentle novel discusses some serious topics and moral dilemmas while telling a totally satisfying story. The book explores how a photograph permanently captures a moment in time, while real life never remains the same. If you have never encountered Cynthia Lord’s books, Half a Chance is a great place to begin. If like me you admire her as much as any writer for middle grade children today, the book will only increase your appreciation of her gifts. She never shows, but tells; she brings complex ideas into the range of children ages nine through twelve, and she relates stories with adventure, humor, and heart.

Here’s an excerpt from Half a Chance:

From the top of Cherry Mountain, there are mountains in all directions, rippling like a rolling sea, wave upon wave. Wide open and windy, the summit cooled me off so fast it didn’t seem possible that I’d been hot and sweaty only minutes before. I made my way carefully around the ledges and between the shrubs and small trees, looking for views to photograph.

But no matter where I stood, I could only fit a fragment of the mountains in the frame. And when I checked my shots, none of my photos compared with the real thing. They just couldn’t show the hugeness I felt. The frame was too small.


Originally posted July 14, 2014. Updated for .

Tags: Family, Friendship, Seasons, Summer
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Half a Chance


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