Texas Bluebonnet Award 2014-2015

Resources for the TBA Nominees

Counting by 7s


Counting by 7s
by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Scroll down to find Related Activities & Resources, Book Talk Teasers, Read Alikes, and Book Reviews.

Readers Theater Script – Counting by 7s (PDF)


Holly Goldberg Sloan bio:

A few things about Counting by 7s:

Book reviews:

Are you a genius quiz:

Which great genius was most like you?:

Games for the brain:

Native plants (must type your state into the site): http://www.abnativeplants.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/plants.search/index.htm?added=8402011

Plan a garden online:

How to create a wildlife friendly garden:

Photos of sunflowers:

Photos of bamboo plants:

Requirements to become a foster parent:

Vietnamese 101:

Giant sequoia trees:

Giant sequoia tree photos by National Geographic (must scroll down past the ads): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2235452/Giant-sequoia-National-Geographic-pictures-giants-forestSierra-Nevada.html

Geometric coloring pages:

Geometric design coloring pages:

Geometric mosaic with lesson plan:

Geometrical stained glass:

The ABC’s of moles (good information but there are side ads): http://www.lifescript.com/health/centers/skin_cancer/articles/know_your_skin_cancer_abcs.aspx

Picture of a cancerous mole:

Fatal car accident statistics:

Discussion questions and activities:

Author Holly Goldberg Sloan has had many harrowing meetings with wild animals. These are listed on her website. She has included a picture of a baby alligator biting her nose.  What animal are you most afraid to have a face-to-face encounter with and why?

Define family. After reading Counting by 7s does your definition of family change and if so how?

Willow sees the world in 7s. She counts everything by 7. She feels 7 is a lucky number for her. Do you have a favorite number you see as lucky? Do you find yourself seeing the world through a special number, color or shape? Is so what is it like?

Willow is accused of cheating because she aced the test. How would you feel if this happened to you? What would you do if you were told to retake the exam? Do you think it is right that Willow is sent to a counselor when there is no proof of her having cheated? Have you ever deliberately missed answers in order to fit in? How far would you be willing to go to fit in? Would you hide who you really are? Why or why not?

Willow says it is worse to be twice orphaned? Do you thinks this is true? Why or why not?

Willow’s parents do not approve of her choice of clothing for the first day of school. How important are looks at school? Why does Willow not understand dressing like a gardener does not work? How would you feel is someone thought you were a janitor because of the way you were dressed? Willow is a genius but has social issues. Do you think you can be book smart and socially smart or are these terms diametrically opposed?

Dell does not care about Cheddar the cat being lost. Is it right to use the cat to influence Willow? Is Dell a good guy or a bad guy? This is a good debate question. List pros and cons.

On page 15 Willow says, “To know me is to know my garden. It is my sanctuary. What is your sanctuary? What should people know in order to know you?

Willow’s hobby is gardening. What is your hobby and why do you like it? If you do not have a hobby what would you like to have as a hobby and why?

Quang-ha is embarrassed because he lives in a garage behind the nail salon and speaks Vietnamese.  Is he being reasonable? Is being poor a reason to be embarrassed? What about being rich?  Explain.

Quang-ha has to sleep in his pants now that Willow is living with his family. If a strange person came to live in your home, how would your life change? What would be good? bad? Why?

When Willow sees a police car in her driveway she is afraid the neighbors might think her parents are criminals. Is this a normal way to think? If you saw a police car at a neighbor’s house what is your first thought about why it is there? Poll your class and graph your answers.

Willow needs a taxi. When Jairo, the taxi driver arrives, Willow asks for the driver’s taxi license, and proof of compliance of the brake and headlight adjustment requirement. Is Willow being cautious or paranoid? Have a class debate defending both sides. Jairo reacts to Willow’s questions by becoming paranoid. Why do you think he has this reaction to Willow?

Willow writes a letter to the owner of Dell’s apartment building asking permission to make a garden. Think about what you would like to do in your neighborhood or school. Figure out the costs, benefits, etc. and write a letter asking permission. If it is something for your school see if you can finance it and actually follow through with your idea.

Pattie lies to the police and the authorities in order to take in Willow. Later she forces Dell out of his apartment in order to pretend it is hers. Do you think her actions are wrong? Have a class debate. Is lying ever justified? Would you lie for a friend? In what circumstances?

When Quang-ha sees the broken glass on the roof he fits the pieces together and makes a mosaic on the skylight.  Try creating your own mosaic using tiles or cut up pieces of construction paper. This can be done using colored tissue paper. Mix a little glue with a lot of water. Touch the top of the tissue paper with the solution and it will stick. Where the tissue overlaps the colors will blend. For example: blue and yellow  will become green. If glued onto transparencies the mosaic can be hung in a window.

Dell labels the students he works with. Dell’s labels are: Lone Wolf, Oddball, Weirdo, and Misfit. If you had to choose one of Dell’s labels which one do you identify with the most? Graph the classes answers. This can be done anonymously.

Willow designs a beautiful garden in her backyard and at the new apartment. Design a native plant garden for your home or school.  Remember to think about color , height and season of bloom.

Willow’s school mascot is the Sequoia Giant. If your school mascot was a plant which plant would you choose and why? What characteristics of your plant would make it an awesome mascot?

Do you think the ending of the book is realistic? Do you think it is possible for more than one stranger to step forward to care for an orphaned teenager? Explain.


You are adopted, a genius, weird, small for your age, starting a new school and have problems fitting in. All of a sudden you find a police car in your driveway. What has happened? Are they looking for me? What are the neighbors thinking? The police get out of the car and their news starts a series of events that will take Willow on the adventure of her life and change the lives of all she encounters. Join in the adventure and let Willow change the way you see the world.


Realistic fiction and girl orphans:

Fisher, Dorothy Canfield. Understood Betsy. A small and timid girl discovers her own abilities and the world around her when she goes to live with relatives on a farm in Vermont. (NoveList)

Morpurgo, Michael. The dancing bear. A lonely girl living in a remote mountain community adopts an abandoned bear cub, but their friendship is threatened when a glamorous film crew comes to town. (NoveList)

Martin, Ann M. Staying together. Sisters Flora and Ruby have begun to fight all the time, and it might take the entire town to get them back together and make them realize how much they’ve grown up since their parents died. (NoveList)

Ryan, Pam Munoz. Paint the wind. After her overprotective grandmother has a stroke, Maya, an orphan, leaves her extremely restricted life in California to stay with her mother’s family on a remote Wyoming ranch, where she discovers a love of horses and encounters a wild mare that her mother once rode. (NoveList)

LaFleur, Suzanne M. Eight keys. When twelve-year-old Elise, orphaned since age nine, becomes disheartened by middle school, with its bullies, changing relationships, and higher expectations, keys to long-locked rooms and messages from her late father help her cope. (NoveList)

Realistic fiction and genius:

Fenner, Carol. Yolanda’s genius. After moving from Chicago to Grand River, Michigan, fifth grader Yolonda, big and strong for her age, determines to prove that her younger brother is not a slow learner but a true musical genius. (NoveList)

Clements, Andrew. The report card. Fifth-grader Nora Rowley has always hidden the fact that she is a genius from everyone because all she wants is to be normal, but when she comes up with a plan to prove that grades are not important, things begin to get out of control. (NoveList)

Realistic fiction and fitting in:

Erksine, Kathryn. Mockingbird. Ten-year-old Caitlin, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, struggles to understand emotions, show empathy, and make friends at school, while at home she seeks closure by working on a project with her father. (NoveList)

Tarshis, Lauren. Emma-Jean Lazarus fell out of a tree. A quirky and utterly logical seventh-grade girl named Emma-Jean Lazarus discovers some interesting results when she gets involved in the messy everyday problems of her peers. (NoveList)

Draper, Sharon M. Out of my mind. Considered by many to be mentally retarded, a brilliant, impatient fifth-grader with cerebral palsy discovers a technological device that will allow her to speak for the first time. (NoveList)

Spinelli, Jerry. Loser. Even though his classmates from first grade on have considered him strange and a loser, Daniel Zinkoff’s optimism and exuberance and the support of his loving family do not allow him to feel that way about himself. (NoveList)

Voigt, Cynthia. The runner. As a dedicated runner, a teenage boy has always managed to distance himself from other people until the experience of coaching one of his teammates on the track team gradually helps him see the value of giving and receiving. (NoveList)

Voigt, Cynthia. It’s not easy being bad. Two unpopular girls try to break into the seventh grade clique system, even though they’re not really sure they want to be popular at all. (NoveList)

Paterson, Katherine. The great Gilly Hopkins. An eleven-year-old foster child tries to cope with her longings and fears as she schemes against everyone who tries to be friendly. (NoveList)

Na, An. A step from heaven. A young Korean girl and her family find it difficult to learn English and adjust to life in America. (NoveList)

Realistic fiction and abandonment:

Voigt, Cynthia. Homecoming. Abandoned by their mother, four children begin to search for a home and an identity. (NoveList)

Paterson, Katherine. Jip: his story. An abandoned boy living on a poor farm in Vermont in the 1850’s learns his true identity. (NoveList)

LaFleur, Suzanne M. Love, Aubrey. While living with her Gram in Vermont eleven-year-old Aubrey writes letters as a way of dealing with losing her father and sister in a car accident, and then being abandoned by her grief-stricken mother. (NoveList)

Realistic fiction, fitting in and physical/mental issues:

LaFleur, Suzanne M. Listening for Lucca. Thirteen-year-old Siena’s visions of the past intensify when her family moves to the Maine coast hoping her little brother will begin speaking, and she connects with residents of the house from many years earlier who faced a similar problem. (NoveList)

Palacio, R. J. Wonder. Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and was not expected to survive, goes from being home-schooled to entering fifth grade at a private middle school in Manhattan, which entails enduring the taunting and fear of his classmates as he struggles to be seen as just another student. (NoveList)

Ganto, Jack. Joey Pigza swallowed the key. To the constant disappointment of his mother and teacher, Joey has trouble paying attention or controlling his mood swings when his prescription medicine wears off and he starts acting weird. (NoveList)


★Counting by 7s. By Holly Goldberg Sloan. 2013. 384p. Dial, $16.99 (9780803738553). Gr. 7–10. (Booklist, August, 2013).

In a voice that is frank, charming, and delightfully odd, Willow Chance narrates the strange and heartbreaking circumstances that lead her to find an offbeat, patchwork quilt of a family. As an adopted, self-identified “person of color,” precocious genius Willow unabashedly knows that she is different, but her parents love and support her idiosyncrasies, such as wearing her gardening outfit to school, her preoccupation with disease, her anthropological curiosity about her peers, and her obsession with the number seven. That self-assuredness shines through Willow’s narrative and becomes crucial to her survival after the unexpected death of her parents, which makes Willow a prime candidate for life in a group home—an environment that could be disastrous for an unusual child like her. Luckily, she finds new friends who are compelled to protect her: Mai and her family, who live in the garage behind the nail salon they own, and Willow’s slouch of a guidance counselor, Dell. Sloan (I’ll Be There, 2011) has masterfully created a graceful, meaningful tale featuring a cast of charming, well-rounded characters who learn sweet—but never cloying—lessons about resourcefulness, community, and true resilience in the face of loss.— Sarah Hunter

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
Sloan, Holly Goldberg. 2013. Counting by 7s. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers / Penguin Young Readers Group. Hardback: 9780803738553.

Losing your parents once is bad enough, but Willow Chance is unlucky enough to experience such a bereavement twice, losing her birth parents when she was adopted in her infancy and her beloved adoptive parents when they’re killed in a car crash shortly after Willow starts at her new middle school. The gifted, eccentric, and somewhat obsessive Willow has no obvious place to stay until a foster home is found for her; she therefore ends up making a home of convenience with schoolmate Mai Nguyen, Mai’s sullen older brother Quang-ha, and their hard-working mother Pattie in a situation made possible by the school counselor, the inept Dell Duke, who’s coerced by Pattie into covering for them with the authorities. What is initially an arrangement of desperation turns into a new life for the Nguyens and for Dell as well as for Willow, but Willow knows that it must all come to an end when her social worker finally manages to find her a foster placement. There are echoes of Horvath’s Everything on a Waffle (BCCB 3/01) in this quirky story of life after tragedy, but it’s still a deeply original tale; Willow’s narration effectively conveys both her outlier tendencies, with her fierce focus on scientific details of botany and her love of the number seven, and the utter, flooding grief she suffers in the wake of her loss. Characterization is sharp yet joyful, with Willow and Mai bonding over not only their racial outsiderhood (Willow is mixed race and Mai Vietnamese) but also their ability to take charge of a situation or an inept adult, while the secondary cast is also afforded nuance and development. Generous-sized print and compact chapters mean the story moves more quickly than its length suggests, and when Willow finally puts down new roots both figuratively and literally (she renovates a garden at their apartment complex), readers will rejoice.

Review Code: R* — Recommended. A book of special distinction. Grades 5-8. Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, September 2013 (Vol. 67, No. 1))

Horn Book:
Counting by 7s

by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Middle School     Dial     380 pp.
8/13     978-0-8037-3855-3     $16.99     g

Twelve-year-old only child Willow Chance is a genius obsessed with plants and medical conditions: “the only reason that I regularly leave the house…is to observe sickness in the general population.” Nevertheless, her loving adoptive parents send her off to middle school with high hopes. Unrealistically, as it turns out. The one bright spot in her school week is seeing sad-sack counselor Dell Duke, through whom she meets high-schooler Mai Nguyen and her surly brother, Quang-ha. Willow throws herself into the possibility of friendship, teaching herself Vietnamese and feeling euphoric about finally feeling part of a group. When disaster strikes and Willow’s parents are killed in an accident, Mai brings Willow home to her mother, Pattie (née Dung), proprietor of Happy Polish Nails. These disparate characters, plus cabdriver Jairo Hernandez, ultimately connect with one another, forming a new family. What sets this novel apart from the average orphan-finds-a-home book is its lack of sentimentality, its truly multicultural cast (Willow describes herself as a “person of color”; Mai and Quang-ha are of mixed Vietnamese,  African American, and Mexican ancestry), and its tone. Willow narrates her own chapters, and her clinical, scientific, pared-down observation of her own grief and healing makes events more poignant, not less. Chapters centering on the other five characters are in the third person but otherwise share Willow’s precision and close observation. And if the resolution is a bit too pat and contrived, it’s still the ending readers will be hoping for with all their hearts. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO – Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine by permission of The Horn Book, Inc., www.hbook.com

School Library Journal:
Sloan, Holly Goldberg. Counting by 7s

★Gr 5–8—Twelve-year-old Willow Chase lived with her adoptive parents in Bakersfield, California. There in the midst of the high desert, she grew a garden in her backyard, her sanctuary. She was excited about starting a new school, hoping this time she might fit in, might find a friend. Willow had been identified in preschool as highly gifted, most of the time causing confusion and feelings of ineptness in her teachers. Now at her new school she is accused of cheating because no one has ever finished the state proficiency test in just 17 minutes, let alone gotten a perfect score. Her reward is behavioral counseling with Dell Duke, an ineffectual counselor with organizational and social issues of his own. She does make a friend when Mai Nguyen brings her brother, Quang-ha, to his appointment, and their lives begin to intertwine when Willow’s parents are killed in an auto accident. For the second time in her life she is an orphan, forced to find a “new normal.” She is taken in temporarily by Mai’s mother, who must stay ahead of Social Services. While Willow sees herself as just an observer, trying to figure out the social norms of regular family life, she is actually a catalyst for change, bringing together unsuspecting people and changing their lives forever. The narration cleverly shifts among characters as the story evolves. Willow’s philosophical and intellectual observations contrast with Quang-ha’s typical teenage boy obsessions and the struggles of a Vietnamese family fighting to live above the poverty level. Willow’s story is one of renewal, and her journey of rebuilding the ties that unite people as a family will stay in readers’ hearts long after the last page.—Cheryl Ashton, Amherst Public Library, OH


2 thoughts on “Counting by 7s

  1. Pingback: Welcome! | Texas Bluebonnet Award 2014-2015

  2. Pingback: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan | Books for Teaching

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