Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, May 19, 2014


Some people never leave their homes without their camera.  I am one of them.  My eyes always seem to be framing photographs; moving in close to preserve a special detail or moving back to save a larger whole.  While our eyes see more wonders than ever imaginable, a camera freezes seconds.

There are times when looking through the pictures taken, I am amazed at the precise moment the camera catches.  In the instant it takes to press the shutter, miracles happen.  Half A Chance (Scholastic Press) Cynthia Lord's new title centers on photography but zooms out to embrace people, change and the strength to move forward through life.

"Lucy, we're going to love this place!" Dad called to me from the porch of the faded, red-shingled cottage with white trim.  "We can hang a swing right here and watch the sunset over the lake.  And these country roads will be great for biking."

Lucy's family of four (Ansel, her dog and her Mom and Dad) have arrived at their new home; the third move in her twelve-year-old life.  The next morning her famous photographer Dad will be leaving for two months on a new assignment.  Constantly hoping to improve her own photography skills, winning her Dad's praise, Lucy heads outside to walk Ansel camera in hand.

She quickly makes the acquaintance of Nat, a boy staying for the summer at his Grandmother Lilah's cottage next door, and Megan, a girl spending the summer at her cottage farther down the lake.  As the new person, figuring out the dynamics of relationships cemented over years is never easy.  The next morning reveals two opportunities for Lucy; a chance to be a part of the Loon Patrol for the summer and a Photo Scavenger Hunt with her Dad as judge.

In New Hampshire loons are a threatened species.  A group monitors their activities and the hatching of eggs.  Due to Grandmother Lilah's inability to get in and out of a boat, Nate's family has assumed her duties watching a pair nesting on a nearby island.  

As Lucy's Dad is packing for his trip he hands her the flyer announcing the contest, asking her to watch the mail for the arrival of the portfolio containing the entries.  She is not sure why he failed to mention it to her.  Nevertheless, she decides to begin taking pictures to match the twenty-four ideas on the announcement.

As the summer days come and go Loon Patrol brings excitement, conflict, tragedy and hope.  Nate and Lucy work on finding subjects for the Photo Scavenger Hunt; their purpose changing, inspired by a new goal.  Challenges and serious decisions need to be made.  What is right?  What is wrong?

Both families, Lucy's and Nate's, face difficulties as a balance is sought between personal desires and doing what is best for others.  Seeing someone you love or someone you've come to care for in a short time, declining, becoming unwell, is not easy.  Deep affection for the loons, for the beauty of nature, for friendships forged, and for family makes the heartbeat of the story strong, steady and sure.

What makes this title shine is the writing of author Cynthia Lord.  No matter your age you immediately care for her characters; every single one of them.  Her descriptions of place and the people within these places are real and relevant.

This summer represents huge adjustments for Lucy and each of the people in her world.  We are privy to...no captivated...by the events as they unfold.  As we read Lord's depictions we long to know how each moment will shift to the next.  Characters' conversations and Lucy's thoughts move us forward as our reader's soul fills with compassion for them.  Here are several passages from the book.

Dad always promises me things before he leaves and then forgets by the time he's home again.  But I couldn't help having that little bit of "I hope so" that this place would be different.  That's the thing with new beginnings---sometimes, they're more than just starting over again.
Sometimes they change things.

Ahead in the cove on the other side of the lake, dragonflies zipped over the water, crisscrossing and weaving like tiny helicopters on a search-and-rescue mission.  

Every time I sang his name, Ansel slowed down his panting---until the next thunder boom.
I saw Mom's feet first.  Then her knees as she knelt down.  Finally her face looked under the bed.  "I came in to tell you to shut your window.  What are you doing?"
"Ansel's shaking like a washing machine."  Thunder crashed again and his whole body tensed.  I covered his ears. "Shh."
I heard the window slide closed, then Mom lay down on the floor with us.  As she rubbed Ansel's face, he licked her finger.  "It's just thunder," she said.

Realistic fiction does not get any better than Half A Chance written by Cynthia Lord.  Her insights into the human mind and spirit are beautifully true, even in the parts that hurt.  She offers her readers an open door into a world many have experienced, are experiencing now or will in the future.  She gives us a way to develop empathy, have hope and ultimately heal.  She gives us love.

Please follow the link embedded in Cynthia Lord's name above to access her website.  An excellent discussion guide for this title is found there.  Head over to John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., for an interview with Cynthia Lord.  At author Kirby Larson's blog, Kirby's LaneCynthia Lord talks about writing this title.  UPDATE:  At the blog Andrea Skyberg|Author & Artist take a tour of Cynthia Lord's studio.


  1. This book sounds so good. The kind I would have loved as a kid. Putting this on my list for summer reading for my kids.

    1. Jessie,
      It's an amazing book in every respect. When I should have been writing my review yesterday, I read it again. I simply could not stop. I know your students will like it.