Guest Post: 7 questions for Newbery-Honor author Gennifer Choldenko


1.      Why do you write middle grade? 


I’m guessing that I write middle grade for some of the same reasons you teach 4th, 5th, 6th  & 7th grade.  I loved that time in my life.  I felt intensely alive and sure of myself when I was 9, 10, 11 and 12.  And then I hit my teens and I got lost.  The intense confusion of the teen years was exacerbated by the death of my sister and my father.  It took me years to get my equilibrium back.  Writing was a big part of finding myself again.  When I write, sixth grade me comes pouring out.   


2.      What are you most proud of in The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman?


The characters.  Something about Hank’s little sister Boo gave voice to me when I was little.  And the relationship Boo had with Hank was taken in part from my relationship with my big brother, Grey.  Also, I’m very proud of creating Lou Ann.  Lou Ann is a difficult character.  Not all bad and certainly not all good.  She was not like anyone I know and yet she feels so real to me.  The kernel of the character for Lou Ann came from what people used to say about one of my aunts.  She loved babies but didn’t like kids.  While I was working on this book, I played tennis regularly with a friend whose wife has a daycare in their home.  One day he told me that his wife preferred the little ones because once they turned 4, they had opinions.   I put those two facts together and Lou Ann popped onto the page.  I also feel quite attached to Ray Delgado because he reminded me of one of my best friends, Jerry (Tuni) Sandoval’s father, Ray Sandoval.  I loved going to the Sandoval house because I always felt welcome there.


3.      Can you suggest read-alikes for The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman? 


This book is for kids who like a gripping emotional story.  Students who loved: When Stars are Scattered, Out of My Mind, The War that Saved My life, Wish, The Night Diary, One for the Murphys, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane will be drawn to The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman.


4.      Are there any of your books which are read-alikes?


Students who respond to Moose in Al Capone Does My Shirts will really like Hank in The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman because Hank and Moose are kindred spirits, both based to some extent on my older brother.  People sometimes say of

Moose that he is too good.  And I expect to hear that about Hank as well.  My answer: “Yeah, well you’ve never met my brother.” 


Orphan Eleven is another possible read alike.



5.      What do you want kids to take away after reading your new book?


If you are a child who has been through some of the problems that touch Hank Hooperman . . . a parent or close relative with drug and/or alcohol problems.  A brush with Child Protective Services and foster care.  The fear that your family will be separated. An intense responsibility to protect your younger siblings. Then I hope your takeaway is: 1. You are not alone.  And 2. There is hope.


If you are a kid who has not experienced these things, then I hope your takeaway is: compassion.  Hank said as little as he could to the kids at school about what was happening in his life. That is pretty common.  So, be kind. You don’t know what another kid may be going through. 



6.       No kids who are bullies in this book . . . what is that all about?


A fellow writer told me she didn’t think a class without bullies was realistic.  I disagree. When I was a kid, some years there were bullies in my classes.  Other years there weren’t.  Often, I hear teachers say that each class develops its own personality.  And some are nicer than others.  Sometimes kids bring out the best in each other.  Other times not so much.  I know bullies are real.  I experienced them growing up, and I have them in many of my books.  And it could be, given how contentious our society has become, that there are more bullies today than there were when I was a kid.  But I don’t believe every group of kids has a bully in it.  And I think we should have books that role model kids being kind – not as a “teaching moment” but as the normal course of business.  


7.        What do you want teachers to know?


I want you to know that I appreciate them.  I believe it is tougher to be a teacher in 2024 than it has been in a very long time . . . maybe ever.  And I want to thank you for getting up each morning and doing all you can for our kids even when the world makes it extra hard. 

Hank Hooperman hates making mistakes. But right now, every decision feels wrong.

His mom left him in charge of his three-year-old sister and hasn’t come home. They are out of food and money, and Hank knows he needs to make a move. So, he and Boo take a bus to find the stranger listed as an emergency contact on Hanks field-trip form. Will ringing Lou Ann Adler’s doorbell be a smart decision or his worst mistake yet?

Hank is a good kid who tries really hard. But what happens when things go south, and you can’t figure it all out? When you love your mother very much, but she has problems you can’t solve? What happens when you make a mistake so huge, it disappoints everyone you love?

The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman has garnered 4 starred reviews thus far and is a Junior Library Guild selection. It is an Indie Next pick for July and August 2024 and the Amazon pick for the best children’s book so far this year.   Link to School Library Journal starred review here: