Orphan Eleven (May 2020)


For every kid who has dreamed of running away and joining the circus, an engaging adventure from an irresistible Newbery Honor storyteller.

Lucy and three friends run away from the Home for Friendless Orphans and join a circus, where they learn about OOFO–the Order of Fine Orphans, a secret network that helps kids like them.

Lucy used to talk, and loved to sing, but cruel treatment has rendered her mute. In order to stay with the circus and work with her beloved elephants, Lucy must be able to call for help–the work is dangerous, and fire is a constant risk. Meanwhile, the matrons who run the orphanage are hunting for Lucy–but not the other runaways. Why is Lucy so important? And unbeknownst to Lucy, letters to the orphanage reveal that Lucy has a long-lost sister who is also searching for her. A lively, heartwarming adventure full of twists and turns from the award-winning author of the Al Capone series. - from Penguin Randomhouse


Keywords:  circus, orphans, finding your voice, finding yourself, friends, friendship, sister, adventure, mutism, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, elephants, helping others


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Gennifer Choldenko is the master of unique storylines for middle school readers. I had no idea what it expect. It looked like a book about a circus but the title suggested an orphanage. Well it is about both, but mainly about family, love and loyalty.

A lot of horrible things happened during this time in history. Orphan Eleven is set in 1939. Without revealing a spoiler, I continue to be appalled at the way children were used as expendable guinea pigs for unethical human experimentation.
This is the inspiring story of 11-year-old Lucy who escapes the orphanage and finds a home with a traveling circus while searching for her older sister Dilly who might be in Chicago.

For the past five years, Lucy has lived at the Home for Friendless Children. Lucy is an A student with the gift of a beautiful voice. In fact she was chosen for special lessons with a “university lady.” Sounds good? Well no, because she is subjected to constant criticism and humiliation during the lessons. For this reason, Lucy begins stuttering and eventually stops speaking, becoming selectively mute. One day, when left unattended outside the orphanage fence, Lucy and three other orphans take off, hitching a ride to Chicago, and connect with a sympathetic dwarf named Jabo. Jabo is the ringmaster of Saachi’s Circus Spectacular. (I realize the term dwarf is dated, rather, Jabo today would be called a little person, but the book is set in the’ 1930’s, therefore the term dwarf.) Under Jabo’s guidance, the three other children find apprenticeships with the circus, but no one will take Lucy on unless she speaks. Lucy must overcome her fear of speaking, if she wants her place with the circus, and connect with her sister.

Set in 1939, Lucy’s dramatic story plays out in Gennifer Choldenco’s carefully researched and authentically portrayed environment of a sad orphanage. Along with this first scenario, you view the colorful, dynamic, diverse circus world. A world that is a little to eager to employ four orphaned children, with no questions asked.

The other aspect of Lucy’s story is her missing sister Dilly. The author intersperses letters from Lucy’s sister that reveal the orphanage’s unethical attempts to keep Lucy from her family.

Readers will enjoy the mystery surrounding Dilly.

I predict this to be another Choldenko hit with middle school readers.

The author’s note reveals the horrifying reality that inspired Lucy’s story.

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