The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman: An Interview with Author Gennifer Choldenko

I’ve been a fan of Gennifer Choldenko since I first read Al Capone Does My Shirts (a 2005 Newbery Honor Book). I also had the pleasure of attending a writing revision session she was giving at a national writing conference.

When I saw the opportunity to interview her about her latest book, I couldn’t resist! I was absolutely blown away by  The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman. It is a wonderful book that will be both a window and a mirror: some children will see themselves in the book, and other children will have a chance to understand what someone else may be going through and feel empathetic.

I couldn’t wait to interview her and pick her brain to learn more about it.


About the Book

First, here’s a summary of The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman:

Eleven-year-old Hank is used to taking care of his little sister, but after his mom is gone for a week and they’re out of food, Hank risks asking for help from a former friend of his grandma’s. With no word from his mom and a grumpy caretaker who hates teenage boys, Hank is worried that he and his sister will be separated and sent to foster care.

This is a heart-wrenching and redeeming story about kindness, family, foster care, resiliency, and forgiveness inspired by Gennifer’s own childhood experiences.


Hi Gennifer!

Wow, I just finished the book last night. Just when I thought the story couldn’t get more intense, it would!

Hi Natalie, thank you so much for your enthusiasm for The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman!  And thank you for taking the time to interview me.


This book had so many twists and turns. Did you know all the things that would happen to Hank before you wrote it? Or, in other words, are you a plotter or pantser?

I’m a mixed blood.  Half plotter/half pantser.  I make outlines but if I stick to the outline the book goes corpse on me.  I think that’s because I’m imposing my will on the story, rather than giving the characters the space to come to life on the page.  Still the outlining of the book helps me get a grasp of the macro of the story. It activates my brain so that I can see the book as a whole.  I outline, then start writing, then toss out that outline, and keep writing.  Then I get lost again and do a new outline and then toss out that outline too.  On and on I go until I get to the end of the book.

That is my usual process.  Though this book was a little more on the pantser side. It came tumbling out in more or less a workable shape.  The big changes came from recommendations my editor made.  I had never worked with her, before so it was a little scary to tear the manuscript apart, when I wasn’t entirely sure her suggestions were on target.  But I decided I’d give it a try and see what happened.  I could always go back to the old draft.  I put my all into making her changes and . . . the book got way better.   She was right.


The topic of The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman is very serious, and sadly, one that some readers will relate to on a very personal level. What is your hope for those readers?   

Many kids in similar situations do not tell anyone what is happening at home. Few kids want to be yanked out of their homes and put into foster care.  But because they feel they have to keep quiet, there is no chance of getting help and often they feel like they are the only kids who are experienced what they are going through.  I hope The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman will reach out and touch them.  I hope it will make them feel less alone and give them faith that there is a way out of the mess they are in.


About the Author

How did your writing journey begin? Any other interesting jobs you have had?

 It began when I was in third grade, and I wrote my first autobiographical story.  It was called The Adventures of Genny Rice and it was about a grain of rice that went down the garbage disposal and all the characters she met down there.  The coffee grounds man, the half a grapefruit lady, the bent spoon.  It was an absolute hoot to write.  And that planted a seed that maybe someday I could come up with weird ideas for a living.


I read that this book was inspired by your own childhood. Was it hard to write about something so close to your heart or did you find it cathartic?

Well first off, I want to clarify The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman is not thinly veiled autobiographical fiction.  It is fiction fiction.  I made the story up based on a lot of research.  That said, the character Hank Hooperman was inspired by my big brother, Grey.  And the relationship between Hank and his little sister Boo was a lot like the relationship I had with Grey. Some of my fondest memories of Grey were when he built “Disneyland” in the living room, and I got to try out all the rides.  Or when my parents weren’t home for my birthday, so he wrapped gifts and presented them to me every hour.  Each time he’d make the delivery it was with a different theatrical or musical fluorish.  My big brother made stuff fun for me just as Hank tries to do with Boo.

But that doesn’t answer your question.  Okay, here’s your answer.  Yes, it was cathartic.


Author, her dad, and her brother (who inspired Hank)

Any little details from your childhood that you snuck into the book?

An interviewer recently asked me how I created Boo.  I told her she was a lot like me when I was little.  And the interviewer asked: “You remember what it was like when you were three?”  It seems impossible that I could remember, doesn’t it?  And I do have a vivid imagination so maybe I just made her up.  But in my heart of hearts, she feels like me.  Even the fact that Boo liked to play with trucks.  I have such a visceral memory of the way the sand felt on my legs as I played with my dump truck.



What was your original spark for The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman?

A manual on foster parenting.


What do you feel has changed about your writing since you wrote your first middle grade book?

When I first started writing there were a limited number of novel ideas, I had the skill set to bring to the page.  In other words, I could think up the ideas, but I didn’t have the chops to write them.  But after publishing 13 novels (counting the two I co-wrote with Katherine Applegate Dogtown and the soon to be released second book in the series: Mouse and His Dog) my ability to write what I imagine has increased dramatically.


For Teachers

Do you have a curriculum guide or discussion questions posted online?

Yes!  It will be available on my website: at the end of August 2024.

How can we learn more about you?

My website: or on Facebook: Choldenko, twitter @Choldenko or instagram GenniferCholdenko, threads @GenniferCholdenko


Thanks for your time, Gennifer.

 Thank you, Natalie!

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Natalie Rompella
Natalie is the author of more than sixty books and resources for kids, including MALIK'S NUMBER THOUGHTS: A STORY ABOUT OCD (Albert Whitman & Co., 2022) and COOKIE CUTTERS & SLED RUNNERS (Sky Pony Press, 2017). Visit her website at