The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


February 24, 2014

Jeana Gockley: Characters stand out in Sloan's 'Counting by 7s'

JOPLIN, Mo. — Several years ago, I had the honor of hearing Nancy Pearl speak at a library conference.

She is a celebrity in the world of libraries.

Pearl is an author, book critic, former library director and a readers' advisory genius, and the Librarian Action Figure was modeled in her likeness.

Her conference talk centered on recommending books and, more specifically, the "doorways" through which readers enter books.

She believes that when a reader opens a book and starts reading it, he or she "enters the world of that book," hence the term "doorway." According to her, there are four major doorways to enter through, and they include story, character, setting and language.

Her talk really struck a chord with me because I recommend books to library users every day, and I am always looking for that next great book to read myself.

From her talk, I discovered that my doorway is through the characters.

If you ask me about a favorite book, I will always mention the characters.

And while reading a great book, I get so caught up that I feel like the characters are real -- that they are my friends, enemies, family, etc.

This is exactly what I experienced while reading "Counting by 7s" by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Willow Chance, the lead character, is not your typical 12-year-old.

Ever since she was dubbed highly gifted in kindergarten, her teachers have struggled to engage, much less challenge, her.

In her free time, she reads medical textbooks, studies skin conditions and cultivates a beautiful garden in the middle of her California desert backyard.

Her adoptive parents, James and Roberta, are supportive and loving, and it is thanks to them that Willow has had such a happy childhood.

In an effort to allow her to make a new start, they enroll Willow in a brand-new school at the start of her sixth-grade year.

Willow hopes to fit in and, more importantly, connect with someone her own age.

However, thanks to finishing a state standardized test in record time, plus getting all the answers correct, Willow is labeled a cheater by her teacher and later the principal.

Willow does not tell her parents about any of her school trouble even after she is sent to see school counselor Dell Duke once a week.

Willow is attending one of these weekly sessions, along with two other teenagers, Mai and Quang-ha Nguyen, when tragedy strikes and she is left without parents for a second time in her short life.

Willow's world is completely shattered, but thanks to her new school acquaintances, she is not left completely alone.

Mai, Quang-ha and Dell become unlikely allies for Willow, and soon, she is surprising even herself with the changes and choices she is making.

If readers enter books through the character doorway, then Sloan does not disappoint. She has crafted a beautifully moving chapter book that readers are sure to devour.

Willow herself is enough to keep the pages turning, but Sloan's book has a well-rounded and diverse mix of characters, plus a heartfelt and engaging story.


Jeana Gockley is children's librarian for the Joplin Public Library.

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