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Exclusive Cover Reveal: ORPHAN ELEVEN by Gennifer Choldenko

There’s a new book by Newbery Honor winner Gennifer Choldenko on the horizon. See it over there? Orphan Eleven? Publishing in May of 2020?

Today we are going to get a first look at the cover. But before that, I had some questions for Gennifer about how the book came to be.

Travis: You mentioned to me that you did some in-person research for Orphan Eleven – what was that like?

Gennifer Choldenko: I’ve always been fascinated by the circuses of the 1930’s, which were wildly creative enterprises filled with the most intriguing people. Many of us think of the circus and what comes to mind is tired repetitive imagery. But when you dig into this time period, you see the circus was a vibrant changing world. It was one of the few places that truly unique and creative individuals could find a home. In the thirties the circus was often the only entertainment in town, and the drive for performers to make their mark by mounting ever more daring, flashy and flamboyant acts was intense. So forget those old tropes. It wasn’t like that at all.

When I first began to dig into the circus of 1939, I discovered the Circus Historical Society. Of course, I immediately became a member and attended the annual conference in Baraboo, Wisconsin. There I got four golden days to root around the archives, rub elbows with circus historians, professors, retired performers, candy butchers, small circus owners and all manner of circus aficionados. It was an absolute blast, so much more fun than I could ever have imagined.

Then, because I wanted to make sure the elephant scenes felt real, I flew to Thailand and visited four of the most respected elephant sanctuaries. Although, the problems elephants in Thailand face are very upsetting and extremely difficult to solve, the chance to support elephants in my small way meant a lot to me. It was hands down the best trip of my life.

Travis: Have you done in-person research for all of your books?

Gennifer: I try my best to do hands-on research, because it makes a huge difference in the quality of the writing. Since I live in the Bay area, it was easy to go to Alcatraz. I became a docent on the island and a member of the Alcatraz Alumni Association. (Yes, there is such an organization! And yes many of the men who were guards and prisoners are in it. Some are best buddies now.)

Travis: Was the writing process for this book similar or dissimilar to your previous books?

Gennifer: Every book comes to life in its own way. With Orphan Eleven, I had a different book in mind when I began to write, but as the characters developed, they let me know that I had the wrong story, the wrong year, the wrong setting and the wrong voice. So I listened to my main character: Lucy Simone Sauvé and the book came to life.

Travis: What was the biggest challenge in figuring out this story?

Gennifer: My biggest challenge was saying goodbye to my characters when the book went to copyediting. I so enjoyed being inside of this book. I didn’t want to leave it, because I didn’t think I could ever create another story that meant as much to me as this one did.

Travis: What’s it like for an author to see the cover of her book for the first time?

Gennifer: Seeing a cover is sort of like shopping for a wedding dress. It’s an intensely emotional experience loaded with significance. Probably from this analogy, you can tell that covers mean too much to me. And frankly that makes me a bad judge of what might or might not be the right image for a book. That said though, I have to admit the illustrator, Iacopo Bruno, and the art director, Leslie Mechanic, created a cover for Orphan Eleven that is, in my view, absolutely stunning. I’ve never loved a cover as much as I love this one.

Thanks for taking my questions, Gennifer!

And now a first look at the cover for Orphan Eleven, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno and art directed by Leslie Mechanic:

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.