For Ages
10 to 99

Readers will be rooting for a happy ending for Hank in Newbery-Honor-winner Gennifer Choldenko’s gripping story of a boy struggling to hold his family together when his mom doesn't come home.

When eleven-year-old Hank’s mom doesn’t come home, he takes care of his toddler sister, Boo, like he always does. But it’s been a week now. They are out of food and mom has never stayed away this long… Hank knows he needs help, so he and Boo seek out the stranger listed as their emergency contact.

But asking for help has consequences. It means social workers, and a new school, and having to answer questions about his mom that he's been trying to keep secret. And if they can't find his mom soon, Hank and Boo may end up in different foster homes--he could lose everything. 

Gennifer Choldenko has written a heart-wrenching, healing, and ultimately hopeful story about how complicated family can be. About how you can love someone, even when you can’t rely on them. And about the transformative power of second chances.

An Excerpt fromThe Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman


Hooperman and Pooperman

My name is Hank Hooperman, but my little sister calls me Pooperman. We are Hooperman and Pooperman, according to Boo. I’d like it to be Hooperman and Superman, but try telling that to Boo.

Boo is three and has pink cheeks and wispy curls that stick up all over the place. She looks like an angel, but she smells like crap. I’ve been trying to teach her to use the toilet, which is why she calls me Pooperman. Unfortunately, it isn’t going well.

Boo pulls her stuffed puppy into the living room. “Beekfast?” she asks.

“Popsicles and saltines,” I say.

Boo claps her hands. She’s easy to please.

“Pooperman,” she announces, “did a stinky.”

“I didn’t do a stinky,” I say.

“I diddin do a stinky.” Boo shakes her head hard. “Elmo did a stinky.”

“It was Elmo,” we decide.

Then I get Boo cleaned up. Grandma Mae taught me how. She said a big brother has to know how to change diapers in case his mom forgets.

“Next time make the stinky in the toilet, okay?”

“Okay.” Boo nods like she always does.

I roll up the dirty diaper and stuff it in the overflowing diaper pail. I need to dump it in the trash behind the building, but I don’t want to run into anyone who might ask about Mom.

Boo waves at the diaper. “Bye-bye, Elmo’s stinky.” Then she heads for our tiny kitchen, skipping in her lopsided way. She’s nailed the skip with her right leg but doesn’t quite have it with her left.

I pry the last Popsicle off the freezer wall, shake the crumbs off the plate, and count out the rest of the saltines. Seven for her. Seven for me. Then I sprinkle on sugar.

I carry the plate to the TV. We’ve just settled in when we hear a sharp rap-rap on the door.

“Mrs. Hooperman, I know you’re in there. Please open up.”

I peek through the front-door peephole. It’s the apartment manager with the saggy face and the tattoos that look like they were drawn by a beginner.

Boo dives for my leg and wraps both arms around it. She holds on as I walk stiff-legged to the bathroom. I close us in so the shouting doesn’t scare her. Mom taught me to do this.

“Open the door. Mrs. Hooperman. Geri! Geri Hooperman.” He bang-bang-bangs. “I know you’re in there, Mrs. Hooperman. And I have every right to enter the premises.” He rattles the doorknob.

Boo puts her hands over her ears and burrows into my leg. We get in the shower stall, but we can still hear.

“You owe six months’ rent, Mrs. Hooperman. I’ve given you multiple warnings. We have started eviction proceedings. I need payment in full by tomorrow morning or you and your kids will be forcibly removed. Did you hear that, Mrs. Hooperman?” He slaps the door.

Tomorrow morning? He can’t be serious.

The knots in my stomach rub against each other.

What if Mom’s not home by then?


Winner, Winner, Lunch and Dinner

Mom went out last Wednesday. She said she’d be home early, but when I woke up the next morning, she wasn’t there. That was the day of the sixth-grade field trip. We were supposed to go to the Creativity Lab to build robots, design cars, and make flocks of birds fly by touching the wall.

Mom filled out the permission slip, but forgot to sign, so I did it for her. I was all set to go, except what about Boo?

If I’d had a phone, I would have called my teacher, Ms. LaFleur, and asked her. But since I didn’t, Boo and I watched cartoons until it was too late to go.

That was a week ago. A week is a long time to be without your mom.

During the day, we watch TV, make up games, and draw. But at night car lights flash across the dark living room, sirens wail, the clock in the kitchen tick-tick-ticks, and I think about the terrible things that could have happened to Mom.

When the apartment manager leaves, Boo snuggles next to me in front of the TV. She licks the sugar off her crackers, and I eat my half of the Popsicle, which tastes better than it looks.

But now I can’t stop thinking about the words the apartment manager said.

Evicted. Forcibly removed. Tomorrow.

If only Grandma Mae were here. Then we’d be at her house. She had a bed for me and a crib for Boo and a real drawing desk with a hundred different-colored markers. But Grandma Mae died last year, and things have been bad since then.

I try to think what Grandma Mae would say to do now. Make a list? Grandma Mae liked to write lists. She said it was her superpower.

I find a paper and write down all the places we could go:

1. C.J.’s house. C.J. is my best friend. It would be fun to have a sleepover at his house, except his mom doesn’t like him having kids over that much. Also, he’s moving, like, this week.

2. The Blue Door. The Blue Door is our favorite place. But we don’t have money to order anything, and they only give free popcorn if you buy a drink.

3. My teacher’s house. Ms. LaFleur liked me at the beginning of the semester, but I’ve missed a lot of school, so she doesn’t like me that much now. Also, I don’t know where she lives.

4. Grace Church. Mom loves singing in choir. Even when she’s been up all night, she still goes Sunday morning to sing. But today is Tuesday and church is only open on Sundays.

5. The library. We have twin librarians, who wear matching multicolor knit caps. They answer my questions and help me find books. But at closing they want you out fast. It’s like they’re ready to turn into werewolves, and they must get you to leave or you’ll see.

I’m done with my list, but it hasn’t helped. I don’t want to go to any of these places.

It’s lunchtime when the hum of the refrigerator stops, the flashing light on the microwave goes dark, and the TV flickers off.

In the sudden quiet inside, the sounds grow louder outside. The rush of cars on the freeway. The roar of a plane overhead. The lady next door doing jumping jacks.

I try the light switch. Nothing happens.

Boo pushes the buttons on the remote. “Boken?”

I step outside to see if it’s a power outage everywhere or just in our apartment. I hear the TV a few doors down and the whir of a blender next door.

Did the apartment manager turn off our electricity? Or is there a bill we haven’t paid?

Boo runs her hands along the TV. “Elmo?”

“It doesn’t work. No more Elmo.”

“Oh.” Boo sits down with a bump and starts to cry.

I pick up her favorite book and she crawls in my lap. I read to her about the hungry caterpillar, but it doesn’t help.

“Let’s play Winner, Winner,” I suggest.

Boo’s bottom lip puckers, her shoulders droop. “No again,” she says.

Winner, Winner is a game we made up where we look for money in Mom’s stuff. The first day Mom didn’t come back, the game was fun. We found quarters in her coat pocket, a dollar in an old purse, and pennies in the tray in the living room. Every time we found a coin, we’d say Winner, winner, and when we had enough, we’d march to Fred’s, the gas-station store, singing Winner, winner, lunch and dinner, and we’d buy Cheetos and Cheerios.

But now there’s no money left to find. So, it’s Loser, Loser--or Toozer, Toozer, as Boo says it. I tell Boo to cover her eyes, then I hide the pennies we have left. I look for easy places so Boo will find them.

“Ready, set, go!” I call. And Boo starts searching. She jumps up and down when she finds a penny. “Winner, winner, lutch and dinner!” she shouts out, and we imagine all the food we could buy, even though a penny won’t buy anything at all.

“Elmo,” Boo says, walking to the TV with her round hand outstretched as if she were handing the penny to him.

“I wish,” I say as I dig through my mother’s drawers, the shelves in her closet, the junk drawer in the kitchen. I look through the bottles on the counter, the cleaning supplies, and the mass of cords in the bottom of her closet.

I search the stack of mail and papers by the front door. But money doesn’t come by mail. Only bills. I open the drawer in the living room table and shake out each piece of paper, searching for coins caught in the folds.

There’s a coupon for carpet cleaning, Boo’s birth certificate, which says Bridget Chesley--a mistake . . . she’s a Hooperman just like me--and a bunch of photos and stuff. Then I dig through a box in the closet and find the phone Mom ran over, business cards, and a bus pass.

Wait . . . a bus pass!

The bus pass has Mom’s name, Geri Hooperman . . . but there’s no picture on it and Geri could be a boy’s name too. I don’t need a bus pass for Boo. She’s so little they don’t make her pay.

“Boo, look!” I dangle the pass in front of her.

Her face scrunches up. She tilts her head.

“It’s a bus pass,” I explain.

She doesn’t know what a bus pass is, but she sees it has made me happy. She takes my hand, and we do our “nutty up, nutty down” dance around the living room.

When we’re tired, we collapse in a heap.

But now I don’t feel so good.

A bus pass doesn’t help when you have no place to go.


Bus Ladies

Sometimes I pretend Mom is home, Grandma Mae’s still alive, and Boo lands every stinky in the toilet.

But I can’t pretend right now. Not with how tight my stomach feels. Forcibly removed. Tomorrow.

On the table is my field trip permission form, covered with orange Cheetos dust. Maybe Boo and I could go to the Creativity Lab. Maybe we could be like the kids in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and live in the museum. But those kids had money for tickets, and we don’t.

I run my fingers over the spaces Mom filled out and the place where I signed her name. In the second space for emergency contacts, Mom wrote: Lou Ann Adler: 131 Mumford Street, Rancho Renato. I think she was supposed to write a phone number. But that’s Mom for you.

I don’t remember who Lou Ann Adler is, but I’ve seen her name before. On another field trip permission slip maybe?

If Grandma Mae had been the one to write Lou Ann Adler in the emergency-contacts space, I would go there for sure. But Mom wrote it. And Mom sometimes gets ideas that don’t make sense. Grandma Mae used to always say I’m the sensible one. That’s why Mom had me.

But wait . . . wasn’t Lou Ann Adler a friend of Grandma Mae’s?

I put frozen green beans on a plate and tell Boo they are a new kind of Popsicle. But neither of us eats them. Even with sugar.

Boo’s stomach growls. I think she’s too hungry to nap, but I sing, “Nutty up, nutty down, nutty turn yourself around. Nutty pillow, nutty bed, nutty covers over your head,” and she climbs in bed. Then I hold her hand until she falls asleep.

While she naps, I peek out the window at the parking lot, willing Mom to come home. But I’m not magic, and she doesn’t come.

So, what do we do now?

I hate making mistakes. Little ones are not so bad. You forget to write your name on your homework. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst, that’s a level two.

You can survive a level two mistake. You don’t get credit for doing the assignment that day. Big deal.

But mistakes on the eight, nine, or ten level . . . they’ll take you out. You forget to hold your little sister’s hand and she runs in front of a car. TEN! TEN! TEN!

I never did that, but I came close. Even an almost TEN! is terrifying.

I don’t want to choose wrong. But doing nothing can be a mistake too.

I slide my spiral sketch pad, my favorite pens, and the thirteen cents we have left into my backpack. Then I grab my skateboard. I’d like to bring the stroller, but Mom sold the good one and the old one is missing a wheel.

I write a note to Mom telling her that we’re going to Lou Ann Adler’s and leave it on the table under a mug. By the time I’m done, Boo wakes up.

“Where Mommeee?” she asks.

“She’ll be back soon,” I say, stuffing her Pull-Ups in my backpack.

“Where we go?” Boo asks.

“We’re going on the bus,” I explain. Boo nods, satisfied, even though it doesn’t answer her question.

I peek out the window to make sure the saggy-faced apartment manager isn’t around. Then I take off the key I carry on a string around my neck, lock our apartment, and hold Boo’s hand as we tiptoe down the stairs.

The bus stop is across the big street, but there’s no walk button to push, so I wait for the light, look both ways, then grip Boo’s hand as we run across. The late-afternoon sun beats down on our backs as we study the bus routes. Rancho Renato isn’t on the route sign. How am I supposed to know which way to go?

The next bus that rolls up is the #31. The brakes squeak, the door whooshes open, and I step up to ask the driver, a big woman with long pink fingernails and shiny skin, how to get to Rancho Renato.

“Rancho Renato?” Her nose crinkles up like she took a bite of pickle. “That’s a stumper.”

But somebody in the bus knows. A lady calls out: “Take this bus to Orchard, then the number eleven south to Cleveland Avenue, then the number seventy to East Orange--or you could wait for the number fifty-two and take it to the number fifteen and then . . .”

The driver grins. “That’s Ms. Pearl. If there’s a way to get to the moon by bus, that woman will know it.”

I flash my mom’s pass to the driver, and she nods her okay for us to get on.

The bus is full of ladies with shopping bags, girls in school uniforms, and two bald monks. We take a seat halfway back, scanning the faces. “Who is Ms. Pearl?” I ask one of the monks.

Under the Cover