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How It Should Be Done: Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Hello!

In high school photography was kind of my thing. I took a photography class and was even the head photographer of my yearbook staff for a few years. There were even these little freshman boys who had lockers near mine and used to call me “Camera Girl”…I loved it! I’d read Cynthia Lord before but was really interested in Half a Chance when I realized that Lucy, the main character, was an aspiring photographer!

When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her — he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet Half a Chance by Cynthia Lordhis high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special — or only good enough.

As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own.

Half a Chance is one of those middle grades novels that deals with difficult topics, but does it exactly how it should be done. Often times in middle grades fiction difficult topics are dealt with using a heavy hand, but Cynthia Lord manages to handle hard subjects with a perfect mix of sweetness and gentleness. What we see is Lucy struggling to get her father’s attention and help her new friend Nate’s family come to terms with their grandmother’s growing illness. All of this difficult stuff is approached through Lucy’s camera lens and creates a book that isn’t heavy handed in it’s struggles.

Lucy is your quintessential middle school girl who is constantly riding that line between self discovery and lack of confidence. Her father is this world renown photographer who is rarely home, she is the new girl in town who is starting to have a crush on her new friend and who isn’t too sure about the girl across the lake who hasn’t been very welcoming. I understand Lucy in the midst of all of this and she’s a very likable character.

The summer lakefront setting just adds to the gentle way Lord approaches Lucy’s story. The morning sunrises over the lake and the haunting calls of the loons (who play a major part in the story) create that kind of hazy summer setting that always seems to find itself in coming of age stories. It makes me wish I spent summers in a lake house!

I would highly recommend Half a Chance to any middle grade readers looking for a quick contemporary and even to parents interested in finding a way to open the conversation about an ill grandparent.

Author: Cynthia Lord

Publisher: Scholastic Press (February 25, 2014 )

Format: Hardcover

Length: 218 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:

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Something Familiar: Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Hola!

As you may know my husband and I moved from Florida to Columbia, South Carolina this past July. We’re loving the fact that we get to experience the change in seasons and that we’re really close to the mountains. It is just a great area to live in. It’s not that we didn’t like Florida, it’s just that it wasn’t the place we wanted to be forever.

Pretty shortly after we moved however, I realized that Chomp by Carl Hiaasen was on the South Carolina Junior Book Award list for the 2013-2014 school year. I was pretty excited to read Chomp because it, like all of Hiaasen’s books, takes place in southern Florida and in the midst of our move I needed to read something familiar.

Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo. His father is an animal wrangler, so he’s grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, snappers, and more in his bChomp by Carl Hiaasenackyard. The critters he can handle.  His father is the unpredictable one.

When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called “Expedition Survival!”, Wahoo figures he’ll have to do a bit of wrangling himself—to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show’s boneheaded star, before the shoot is over. But the job keeps getting more complicated. Derek Badger seems to actually believe his PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts. And Wahoo’s acquired a shadow named Tuna—a girl who’s sporting a shiner courtesy of her old man and needs a place to hide out.

They’ve only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm. Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves. And then Tuna’s dad shows up with a gun.

Although I’ve always enjoyed the Hiaasen books that I have read, his books are not always my favorite. However, I think out of all of them Chomp might have been the one I liked the most. There was just so much more humor in this story and I stopped my husband to tell him about the story more than I usually do when reading. I especially loved the reality show idea and my husband and I are big fans of Bear Grylls and his survival shows, so I got a kick out of the Derek Badger character, who is obviously a mocking portrayal of Grylls and survival show hosts like him.

In Hiaasen’s books the setting is always a character in its own right. And although I’ve never been to the Everglades (even after living in Florida for around 15 years) I know enough about Florida wildlife and geography to completely understand and appreciate this setting. Hiaasen throws in so many Florida “inside jokes” or references that I absolutely felt like I was back in the Florida sunshine.

The main character, Wahoo and his friend (something more?!), Tuna, are really fun and lovable characters. These two are one of the main reasons why I enjoyed Chomp more than Hiaasen’s other books. Wahoo and Tuna were both so realistic and tender in their new-found friendship that you can’t help but fall for them both.

OMG! I almost forgot! Do you even know who narrates this audiobook!?  I freaked out when I pressed play for the first time and heard the voice I hadn’t heard in like 10 years…DAWSON LEERY! Yes. You read correctly. Chomp is narrated by James Van Der Beek! High School Tina swooned a little. For real.

Chomp, definitely comes recommended for middle grade readers considering jumping into Hiaasen’s books who enjoy survivalist stories with some humor thrown in. Although, I do enjoy Hiaasen’s books they are definitely written mostly for their middle grade audience and I think it would be a stretch for older readers (especially adults) to really get into.

Author: Carl Hiaasen

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (March 27, 2012)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 6 hours and 13 minutes

Narrator(s): James Van Der Beek

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book: Chomp