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Written by Wendelin Van DraanenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Wendelin Van Draanen


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On Sale: March 11, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-84912-1
Published by : Laurel Leaf RH Childrens Books
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"It's a cold, hard, cruel fact that my mother loved heroin more than she loved me."

Holly is in her fifth foster home in two years and she's had enough. She's run away before and always been caught quickly. But she's older and wiser now--she's twelve--and this time she gets away clean.

Through tough and tender and angry and funny journal entries, Holly spills out her story. We travel with her across the country--hopping trains, scamming food, sleeping in parks or homeless encampments. And we also travel with her across the gaping holes in her heart--as she finally comes to terms with her mother's addiction and death.

Runaway is a remarkably uplifting portrait of a girl still young and stubborn and naive enough to hold out hope for finding a better place in the world, and within herself, to be.

From the Hardcover edition.


May 17th

It’s cold. It’s late. I’m trapped in here, trying to sleep under this sorry excuse for a blanket, and I’ve just got to tell you—you don’t know squat. You think you know what I’m going through, you think you know how I can “cope,” but you’re just like everybody else: clueless. Writing. Poetry. Learning to express myself. “It’ll help you turn the page, Holly. Just try it.”

Well, I’m trying it, see? And is it making me feel better? NO! Giving me this journal was a totally lame thing to do. You think writing will get me out of here? You think words will make me forget about the past? Get real, Ms. Leone!

Words can’t fix my life.

Words can’t give me a family.

Words can’t do jack.

You may be a teacher, Ms. Leone, but face it: You don’t know squat.

May 19th

Oh, you really took the cake today. “Put your most embarrassing experience in the form of a cinquain poem.” What did you expect me to do? Write the truth? I knew you’d read them out loud and you did! How do you spell idiot? I spell it L-E-O-N-E.

Did you like my little poem about spilling my milk in a restaurant? Stupid, I know, so give me an F, see if I care. Like I can even remember ever being in a real restaurant.

You want a cinquain poem about a most embarrassing moment that actually happened to me? Okay, here you go:


Chained outside

Shivering, huddling, sobbing

Naked in the rain


Oh, yeah. That makes me feel SO much better.

May 20th

My mom died two years ago today.

I’d been scamming food, she’d been shooting up.

I miss her.

More than I have tears to cry, I miss her.

May 20th, again

You want to know why I was crying at recess? That cat Camille is why. She called me a homeless freak. Told me I had a face only my mother could love. Normally, I would have told her to eat dirt and die, but today I just couldn’t take it.

I didn’t tell you because I knew you wouldn’t believe me. Everyone knows she’s your favorite. “Miss Leone, do you need some help?” “Miss Leone, do you want me to pass those out?” “Oh, Miss Leone, you look so pretty today!” Adopt her, why don’t you?

Oh, that’s right—she already has two parents.

May 20th again, again

When they moved me in with the Benders, the social worker told me that they were “very kind and very patient people.” What a laugh. They’re phonies, is what they are. Mrs. Bender is a heartless witch, and Mr. Bender is a total creep. He’s always touching me. On the shoulder. On the hair. On the hand. He gets that same look that Mr. Fisk used to get when his wife wasn’t around.

Social services won’t believe me if I complain. They’ll say I’m just looking for trouble. Lying. Faking. Overreacting. “Self-inflicting.”

Well, I’m not going through that again. I’d rather DIE than go through that again. So tonight when Mr. Bender started massaging my shoulders, I told him, “Stop it!”

He didn’t. “I’m only trying to help you unwind,” he said in his snaky voice.

“Stop it!” I shouted. “Don’t touch me!” And I slapped his creepy hands away.

That brought Mrs. Bender running. “What is going on in here?” she asked, and after he explained it to her, I got locked in my room. Not the room they show the social worker. That’s the room they tell me I’ll get when I’m a “good” girl. The room I really get is the laundry room. They give me a mat, a blanket, and a bucket to pee in.

So sweet dreams, Ms. Leone, in your feathery bed or whatever you have.

Do you really believe words are going to keep me warm and safe tonight?

May 21st, early morning

Why am I doing this? Why am I writing to you again? I’m shivering in this room, huddled under this blanket writing to you, and why? What good is it? I’m hungry, I can’t sleep, I’m locked in here, and I’ve got to pee. I hate using the bucket, I just hate it.

Man, I’ve got to go. Hold on a minute.

Oh, that’s better.

Maybe I can get back to sleep now.

Nope. I’m too cold.

So you want to hear how I get a drink when they trap me in here on weekends? I turn on the washer. Pretty sly, huh? I used to put my blanket in the dryer and get it roasting hot, but the dryer quit working and of course I got blamed.

I don’t mind the size of this squatty little room, it’s the cold that gets me. Why can’t they give me a better blanket? How about a sleeping bag? Would that kill them?

Whatever. No matter how much I try, I’ll never be “good” enough to sleep in the real room.

I’ve got to come up with a plan to get out of here.

May 21st again, lunchtime

What is it with you and poetry? It’s like some crazy obsession with you. And I couldn’t believe your stupid “Life is poetry” statement. Maybe your life is poetry, but mine’s a pile of four-letter words. “Find the motion. Find the rhythm. Find the timbre of your life.” Whose idea is all this? Yours? Did somebody teach you this stuff? How’s this ever going to help me in life?

And guess what? You can forget it. I’m not doing it. Write your own stupid poem about your own poetic life.

Mine would just get me sent to the office.

May 21st again again, after school

I hate you, you know that? I hate you for making me write that poem. I hate you for making me lie about my life. But most of all I hate you for acting so sweet to me. You don’t really care. I’m a job to you, like I am to everybody else. I know it, so quit pretending you care.

And you probably think you’re doing a good job, but guess what? You’re not. I can see right through you, so just leave me alone, would you? Forget I’m even in your class. Forget you’re supposed to be trying to “help” me. And quit making me write poems!

From the Hardcover edition.
Wendelin Van Draanen

About Wendelin Van Draanen

Wendelin Van Draanen - Runaway
Books have always been a part of Wendelin Van Draanen’s life. Her mother taught her to read at an early age, and she has fond memories of story time with her father, when she and her brothers would cuddle up around him and listen to him read stories.
Growing up, Van Draanen was a tomboy who loved to be outside chasing down adventure. She did not decide that she wanted to be an author until she was an adult. When she tried her hand at writing a screenplay about a family tragedy, she found the process quite cathartic and from that experience, turned to writing novels for adults. She soon stumbled upon the joys of writing for children.
Feedback from her readers is Van Draanen’s greatest reward for writing. “One girl came up to me and told me I changed her life. It doesn't get any better than that,” she said. Van Draanen hopes to leave her readers with a sense that they have the ability to steer their own destiny—that individuality is a strength, and that where there's a will, there's most certainly a way.
Her first book was published in 1997, and since then her titles have won many awards. Now in its sixteenth installment, the Sammy Keyes Mysteries have been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Children’s Mystery five times, with Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief bringing home the statue. Additionally, she has won the Christopher medal for Shredderman: Secret Identity, the California Young Reader Medal for Flipped, and the Schneider Family Book Award for The Running Dream. Her books have been translated into many foreign languages, Shredderman became a Nickelodeon made-for-TV movie, and Flipped was released as a feature film, directed by Rob Reiner. She lives in California with her husband and two sons. Her hobbies include the “Three R’s”: Reading, Running and Rock ’n’ Roll. 
Fun Facts
Born January 6 in Chicago, IL 
Previous Jobs
Forklift driver, coach (sports), musician, high school math and computer science teacher 
Inspiration for writing
The past, the future, and the struggle for a happy ending!
. . . food: sushi
. . . clothes to wear: Sneakers, shorts, and sweatshirts
. . . colors: Emerald green with a splash of midnight blue
Praise | Awards


“Readers will be drawn to the gripping details of both physical and emotional landmines hidden in the ordinariness of everyday life. This is a great book to hand-sell or booktalk to young teens. . . . Van Draanen has shown great versatility in adding another dimension to her already respected body of work.”–School Library Journal

“Readers will be drawn to Holly as she shifts between her search for a safe place to live, her anger at the foster care system and her reflections on the circumstances that led up to her mother’s overdose.”–Publishers Weekly

From the Paperback edition.


WINNER 2010 Florida Sunshine State Book Award
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


In this story of 12-year-old runaway Holly
Janquell, hope, resilience, forgiveness, and the
healing power of words lead this remarkable
heroine on a quest for a family and home
to call her own.
Holly Janquell is no typical sixth grader. Having
spent much of her young life homeless with her
drug-addicted mother, Holly becomes a ward
of social services after her mother dies from
an overdose. Her experience in foster care goes
from bad to worse as she endures various forms
of abuse, until she decides to escape her circumstances
by running away. Holly has the brain,
heart, and soul of a poet: gifts that slowly emerge
after a kind teacher presents her with a journal
and encourages her to write. As she makes her
way to California to become a “sea gypsy,” the
journal and the words she enters into it become
a lifeline of hope, resilience, courage, and
strength. Ultimately, Holly realizes that words
are not just words, and poetry has the power
to heal even the most wounded of hearts.


Wendelin Van Draanen began keeping
a journal after a family tragedy. Writing
started as a way to sort through her feelings
and frustrations, but grew into something
she enjoyed for its own sake, and eventually
became a new and rewarding career. Van
Draanen is the author of the Sammy Keyes
mysteries and the Shredderman series. She
lives in Central California.
For more information about the author, visit


● Holly uses sarcasm throughout the story. What
is sarcasm, and why do you think Holly resorts
to it so often? Do you use sarcasm? If so, in what
situations do you use it? What responses do you
tend to get after you make sarcastic comments
or statements?
● Before Holly runs away, she endures many types
of abuse. Discuss the abuses that Holly has faced,
both on the street with her mother, with the
Fisks, and with the Evans. Do you think, in light
of her circumstances, she made the right decision
to run away? Why or why not?
● Early on in the story, Holly claims that her
journal is stupid and dangerous. How could a
journal, or writing in one, be dangerous? Later
in the story, Venus steals the journal and reads it.
Why does Holly write, “ou can steal my money,
you can steal my food, but, man, touch my
journal and I’ going to beat the crud out of
you!”(p. 127) Why is stealing a person’ journal
an extreme invasion of privacy?
● Throughout the story, Holly writes a variety
of poems. Choose one from the first half of the
book and one from the second half. Analyze the
meanings of the poems and how Holly grows
as a poet. Discuss the themes that her poetry
conveys and how those themes parallel her
personal evolution.
● Holly is incredibly smart and resourceful. Discuss
ways in which Holly uses her resourcefulness and
intelligence to survive. In what situations do her
survival instincts overcome her smarts and sense
of reality?
● Discuss why Holly won’ refer to herself as
homeless. When in the story does this denial
begin to break down? Why does Holly’ admission
of her situation enable her to finally move toward
finding the family she so craves?
● Holly rations food throughout her journey.
Discuss what a day would be like without eating
the proper amount of food. Explore ways in
which the class can help provide food for the
homeless in their own community.
● On page 36, a homeless woman says to Holly,
“omeless don’ write in journals!”What
assumptions have your students made about
the homeless? Challenge them to research
the facts about homelessness and report
their findings to the class.
● Discuss how throughout her struggles, Holly
retains her dignity and self-respect. How does she
demonstrate compassion for her fellow man, and
how does she manage to still appreciate the little
she does have?
● After Holly finds what she thinks is a safe house
by the cement river, she writes, “hinking that
way fills me with hope. And stupid and naïve
or not, without hope, I’e got nothing.”(p. 82)
Discuss why hope is so necessary for one’
● After the rescue wagon lady defends Holly from
Venus, Holly writes, “ut something about one
person noticing that I’ not the bad one makes
me feel better. Less alone.”(p. 132) Explain what
Holly means. Why is this moment a personal
turning point for her?
● How does writing in her journal help Holly in
ways that counselors and social workers cannot?


Challenge your students to write their own
journal entries using the following suggestions:
● Holly’ teacher, Mrs. Leone, gives Holly a journal
and as a first assignment asks her to put her most
embarrassing experience in the form of a cinquain
poem. In order to relate to Holly as a character,
write your own cinquain poem of an embarrassing
moment. (You may want to refer students to the
Web site section of this guide to learn about
writing cinquain and other forms of poetry).
● Reread the incomplete poem on page 16. In this
journal entry, try to “ecome”Holly and express,
in poetry, why she pushed Mrs. Leone away.
● Throughout the story, Holly is constantly in
search of the basic things she needs to survive:
food, clothing, shelter, light. Take a personal
inventory of your stuff. Separate the list into
things that you need and things that you have
because you want to have them. Write in your
journal how this exercise has caused you to
examine the importance of possessions and your
level of appreciation for what you have in life.
● Holly fantasizes about how her life will be
once she gets settled. Her fantasy contradicts
her realities every step of the way. Write about
a fantasy you have for your future and how you
can turn your fantasy into reality.
● Holly steals to get by. Write about the moral and
ethical aspects of her stealing. Is it right or wrong?
Is it that simple? When, if ever, is it acceptable
to steal?
● In her desperation to escape Aaronville,
Holly drops from a tree onto a moving train.
She describes it as the scariest thing she’ ever
done. Write about the scariest thing you’e
ever done, and if you would do it again.
● In this journal entry, put yourself in Holly’
shoes: you are alone in the world with no family,
no home, and no friends. Now write about the
people you would miss the most and why.
● Holly describes how she and her mother
would eat KFC and canned spiced peaches for
Thanksgiving dinner instead of roast turkey.
Even though she yearned for the traditional
Thanksgiving fare, she requested spiced peaches
for her first Thanksgiving with Vera and Meg.
Write about a tradition in your family that you
hold dear, and also about a tradition that you
would like to change.


Encourage students to identify unfamiliar words,
and try to define them using hints from the
context of the story. Such words may include:
skittish (p. 13), ironic (p. 35), shinnied (p. 39),
loath (p. 53), paranoid (p. 53), putrid (p. 64),
plucky (p. 78), shrewd (p. 78), dilapidated
(p. 90), uppity (p. 130), rancid (p. 170),
and sabotaged (p. 217).


Stand Up for Kids
This site’s mission is a commitment to the rescue
of homeless and street kids, and offers an
abundance of facts and information about the
realties of runaway children.

Education World
This site contains an article about the benefits
of journal writing and writing prompts to facilitate
student journal writing.

Forms of Poetry for Children
This site provides a list of various poetry forms,
how to write poems, and examples of
popular poetry forms for children.


Harry Sue
Sue Stauffacher
Abandonment • Grief • Abuse
Grades 6 up
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover:
978-0-375-83274-1 (0-375-83274-2)
GLB: 978-0-375-93274-8 (0-375-93274-7)

Heaven Eyes
David Almond
Orphans • Runaways • Homelessness
Grades 5 up
Laurel-Leaf paperback:
978-0-440-22910-0 (0-440-22910-3)

Monkey Island
Paula Fox
Social Situations • Homelessness & Poverty
Grades 5 up
Yearling paperback:
978-0-440-40770-2 (0-440-40770-2)

Pictures of Hollis Woods
Patricia Reilly Giff
Foster Care • Social Situations
Grades 3–8
Yearling paperback:
978-0-440-41578-7 (0-440-41578-0)
Wendy Lamb Books hardcover:
978-0-385-32655-1 (0-385-32655-6)
GLB: 978-0-385-90070-6 (0-385-90070-8)


Prepared by Colleen Carroll, Education Consultant, Curriculum Writer and Children’s Book Author, Sleepy Hollow, New York.
Random House Children’s Books • School and Library Marketing • 1745 Broadway, Mail Drop 10-4 • New York, NY 10019 • BN0603 • 09/06

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