ABOUT THIS BOOK
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.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
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
DISCUSSION AND WRITING
● 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
● 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
● 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
● 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
● 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).
BEYOND THE BOOK
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.
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.
OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST
Abandonment • Grief • Abuse
Grades 6 up
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover:
GLB: 978-0-375-93274-8 (0-375-93274-7)
Orphans • Runaways • Homelessness
Grades 5 up
Social Situations • Homelessness & Poverty
Grades 5 up
Pictures of Hollis Woods
Patricia Reilly Giff
Foster Care • Social Situations
Wendy Lamb Books hardcover:
GLB: 978-0-385-90070-6 (0-385-90070-8)
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
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