How to Stun Second-Graders Into Silence

It’s not easy to stun a room of second-graders into silence, but I guarantee that this picture will do it:

We were discussing different cultures, and when we put this picture up on the Smart Board, 25 seven-year-olds gasped and gawked.

Maybe it’s the sea-green eyes or the piercing stare, but this Afghani girl has that same effect on people of all ages. She’s become iconic, an image many people conjure up when they think of National Geographic.

I will never forget my own reaction to discovering the original photograph while digging through old issues of the magazine when I was ten. She looks both terrifying and terrified. The horrors of war and an escape to a Pakistani refugee camp are conveyed in the way she almost glares at the camera. You feel as if she isn’t just captured on the page, she’s staring right at you, and she knows all of your secrets.

At the time, I screamed and slammed the cover face-down onto the floor, but a moment later, I flipped it back over to take another peek. As scary as the image can be, you feel compelled to stare back, to lock eyes with the image, and puzzle out the her almost baffling beauty.

If you haven’t seen the image before, I’d love to hear what you think of it in the comments. Did you startle the way I did or did you gasp and stare like my students?

If you’re interested, there is an article about going back to find the girl seventeen years later. It’s amazing, and the picture Steve McCurry took is just as striking.

I’ve had this new layout around for a few weeks now, and I’m curious to know whether you like it or not.

And it’s that time again. I’m writing this week’s Reader-Selected post tomorrow and need you to vote for the topic.

I also hang out at, where I sometimes reblog pictures as beautiful as this one.

On Walking Pneumonia, Failed Eighth Grade Presentations on Afghanistan, and my Addiction to Cough Drops

As I wrote in In Which Ella Gets a Fever for the First Time in Two Years and In Which Ella Sounds Like a Seventy-Year-Old Man With Emphysema, I am sick. Whoopee.

I am still talking in a very husky voice, which unfortunately, does not sound alluring in the least, but my cough has gotten much worse. It makes my whole body shake, and I am reminded once again that it actually *is* possible to break ribs from coughing too hard. The cough sounds rather croup-y and rumbly and not at all like your standard, I’m-unwell cough. I have a history with walking pneumonia*, and everything that has happened so far matches up perfectly to the disease. Only this time, I’m planning on getting it treated before three months go by and it really bad.

Let me explain.

In eighth grade, I thought that what I had was just a weird virus that left a lingering cough. But the cough kept getting worse and worse, and my voice, hoarser and hoarser. It got to the point where people in other classrooms were getting distracted by incessant coughing. The day before my mother finally decided that it was serious and I needed a trip to the doctor, I had to give a twenty-minute long presentation.

We had read Suzanne Fisher Staples’ Underneath the Persimmon Tree and had been assigned a project of our choosing on Afghanistan. I decided that just like the characters in the book had, I was going to wear my brand new shalwar kameez and matching scarf that my dad had brought back from India a month earlier, and teach a lesson about Afghani culture. I had made a poster with maps and pictures carefully cut out of National Geographic, but when it came time for me to present, everything fell apart. I was coughing up a storm, making it near impossible for me to get a word in edgewise, and when I could form one, it came out as a very pathetic wheeze.

But despite the fact that my teacher kept offering for me to sit down and do it another day, I soldiered on until I got through all of it. I don’t think anyone, let alone me, heard anything I said, but they all very kindly listened as I enthusiastically pointed at the poster and hacked up a lung. Because I had also turned in a script with the poster, I miraculously got an A, and was still that I was fine when I got hauled into the doctor’s office that afternoon.

But I am not going to be so stupid this time. If the past five years have taught me anything, it’s to stick up for yourself and for your body. If you think that there is something going wrong, there probably is, and doctors work for you and not you for them. It’s okay to have a false alarm or catch something still in its infancy. They actually don’t like when a patient comes in with a sickness that could have been cured over a week ago.

So if this cough sticks around tomorrow, I’m headed to the doctor’s office posthaste on Monday.

Also, I have been very, very, very well behaved and not used being sick as an excuse to eat copious amounts of cough drops. When I was around ten, I would go through more than a pack every week, even when I wasn’t experiencing coughing or a sore throat. I was a regular cough drop connoisseur, and the Riccola sugar-free lemon ones were by far my favorite. However, it was when I ate an entire pack in one day, that my mom put her foot down, and I had to quit. Just like caffeine**, I’m proud to say that I haven’t had any in years, no matter how great the temptation.

*I spelled that right on the first try. Do not feel obligated to have a federal holiday in my honor for recognition of this stupendous achievement.

**Okay, that’s not entirely true. I did drink a Coke on my seventeenth birthday and a Diet Dr Pepper (They recently got rid of the period in dr. for some strange reason.) when I was sixteen, all within the same three month period, but that’s been it for many, many years. I swear.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.