CLSC Young Readers play in the dirt to end season

Counting-by-7sEveryone starts with some sort of family unit — whether it be immediate family, extended family, neighbors, friends — and their community grows from there, author Holly Goldberg Sloan said.

Willow Chance, the main character of Sloan’s book Counting by 7s, is forced to rebuild that community when she loses her parents.

“She’s looking for a place where she’s appreciated and understood — it’s about how much we all need each other,” Sloan said. “It’s the force of her character that leads her to find a new place where she feels comfortable.”

At 4:15 p.m. today at the Children’s School, the last Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Young Readers program will meet for a book discussion and gardening activity. Betsy Burgeson, supervisor of gardens and landscapes, will lead the latter activity.

Matt Ewalt, associate director of education and youth services, said Counting by 7s was highly recommended to him over the past year, and it was one of the first books he had hoped to put on the Young Readers list.

“This is a great example of the ways in which communities can come together and be able to think beyond themselves,” Ewalt said.

Burgeson will be bringing a fun — and slightly messy — activity to participants, Ewalt said.

“The project with Betsy is going to be getting kids’ hands dirty,” he said. “Landscape plays an important role here, and we’re going to be talking about how it adds to the overall Chautauqua experience.”

They’re also going to discuss the physical work and maintenance that goes into the landscaping of Chautauqua, and how that becomes a huge part of the Institution, Ewalt said.

In Willow’s world, gardens and medicine become the sciences that make sense to her. She finds solace in the world of plants and in the diagnoses of illnesses. The community garden she becomes a part of develops its own community, which serves as a metaphor for the theme of the whole book, Sloan said.

“Everything that grows requires nurturing on some level, and the garden is a metaphor for that,” she said. “I find a lot of comfort in the natural world. Plants — they’re alive, and the more I think you understand that, the more you see the beauty and the importance in it.”

The book is, in part, a reflection of her own struggles and experiences, Sloan said. She even pulled a lot of the characterization from kids in the school for gifted children her own sons attended.

“The kids at that school are really interesting to me,” she said. “During their recess time, half of the class would just choose to go to the library. I think that people are probably more like my characters than they are supposedly normal. Willow — she is very special in the way she sees the world. But I didn’t put a label on her. You get to choose what she is.”

Sloan tried to keep Counting by 7s light and humorous, despite some challenges each of her characters face, she said.

“I hope that the book has a lot of humor in it,” Sloan said. “There’s lighthearted moments, and in those you can choose to see the craziness that is life, and you move on. There is no plant in the world that stays the way it is.”