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Orphan Eleven

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  195 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Four orphans have escaped from the Home for Friendless Children. One is Lucy, who used to talk and sing. No one knows why she doesn't speak anymore; silence is her protection.

The orphans find work and new friends at a traveling circus. Lucy loves caring for the elephants, but she must be able to speak to them, and to warn others of danger. If Lucy doesn't find her voice, s
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 26th 2020 by Wendy Lamb Books
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Average rating 4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  195 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Gennifer Choldenko
Feb 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
(Full disclosure here. I am the author of Orphan Eleven so of course I love the book.)
Orphan Eleven is about a girl in search of her voice, a big sister who will do anything to find her little sister, an elephant with a big personality, and a group of ragtag orphans who look out for each other. I am so proud to have written this book. It feels like a gift from eleven year old me to eleven year old you.
Stephanie Fitzgerald
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Middle-grade readers, teachers, and history buffs!
This book brought to mind some good memories! When I was eight, I fell in love with the book and movie of “Toby Tyler, Or Ten Weeks With the Circus”. I remember asking my family to please call me Toby for awhile after that!
Orphan Eleven also has other elements of stories I enjoyed as a kid. A red-haired orphan singled out for discipline in an orphanage run by truly mean grown-ups, (“Annie” come to mind, anyone?) The scenes of the circus being put up and taken down, complete with elephants and r
Kelly Lyn
Aug 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Had no idea that the studies involving orphans and inducing stutters were a real thing. Also love that a portion of the sales of this book will go to!
Josephine Sorrell
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.

The sto
Joanne Kelleher
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
In the first few pages of Orphan Eleven, Choldenko ratchets up the tension bit by bit until BAM! the action starts. And the tension doesn't stop until the very end. Through a lucky break, Lucy, a selective mute, and her three fellow orphan runaways wind up at the circus. Their luck continues when one of the circus folk takes them under his wing and encourages them to find their niche, and a home, under the big top. But earning a permanent spot is not guaranteed, and the orphans must overcome
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing


This is honestly one of those books that made me go through so many emotions and had me at the edge of my seat. I just loved everything about Orphan Eleven.

The main highlight of the story is Lucy! What a wonderful character. My heart just went out to her from page one. She is charming main character, whose wings have been clipped. Yet she is always hopeful to lead a better life and find her sister Dilly. The journey that Lucy
Paige Green
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author and the e-arc as well. Thanks! All opinions are my own.

Book: Orphan Eleven

Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Book Series: Standalone? Should be a series

Rating: 4/5

Diversity: (selective?) mute character and a stuttering character. Also a little person character

Recommended For...: running away to the circus, historical fiction, middle grade

Publication Date: May 26, 2020

Genre: MG Historical Fiction

Recommended Age: 10+ (some scary events, child labor)

Jul 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Four orphans eagerly wait for an opportunity to escape from the Home for Friendless Children. Lucy, one of the orphans, used to love to talk and sing. Now, she no longer speaks as she believes silence is the only way to protect herself.

After a tumultuous journey, the orphans find work and new friends aboard a traveling circus. Lucy loves being able to take care of the elephants but, for her to secure the job of the elephant handler, she will need to speak to the elephants and warn others of dang
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK!!! I can't remember the last time I was so drawn to a character quite so quickly. Lucy tugged at my heartstrings from page one and never let go! I was pulling for her to succeed and found myself cheering when things went right and sobbing when they didn't. Gennifer Choldenko did not disappoint (she rarely ever does) and I applaud the amount of research she devoted to this amazing story! I learned so many things about the circus and orphanage life that I had never known befor ...more
Karen Arendt
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Lucy is in an orphanage in 1939 after her mom dies. She is separated from her sister before she enters the orphanage and is treated poorly. When Lucy and a few other have the opportunity to run away, they do. They join the circus hoping to earn apprenticeships. But because of Lucy’s stuttering, she is not likely to be asked to stay. All circus members need to be able to yell “John Robinson” if there is danger.

Lucy is a strong and lovable character as are her friends Nico and Eugene. Doris is no
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"In this world that can be terribly hard & unkind, there are miracles...(p. 285)"

Experience the miracle of Lucy who runs away from the orphanage and has the adventure of a lifetime as she discovers her talent of working with elephants in the circus. There are ups and downs and lots of interesting history in this story.
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Set in 1939, Lucy and three other children escape the Home for Friendless Children. With the help of some kind, former orphans, the four find themselves searching for apprenticeships with a travelling circus. But Lucy is mute, and not speaking is not an option in circus work. Lucy used to speak and sing, so why won't she now? And why are the matrons of the orphanage so insistent on bringing her back, but not the others?

This mystery and Lucy's spirit made it hard for me to put this book down. The
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I received an electronic ARC from Random House Children's Publishing through NetGalley.
Choldenko spins tales that immediately connect to readers. This book is about orphans and the circus - almost seems like a cliche - until you step into the world she creates in 1939 Illinois.
The orphanage where Lucy lives is as vile and depressing as expected. What is unexpected is the way the university uses some of the orphans for a speech study. In essence, this study has turned Lucy into a selective mute a
Patti Sabik
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya
Choldenko never ceases to amaze me at how she grabs random weird pieces of history and weaves them together to create a really great story and teach us something totally new. In this book, we learn about orphanages, the circus, and a study regarding stuttering. All of this with quirky, endearing, and interesting characters and a plot with nice-paced action. AND she's donating some proceeds to elephant rescue too! "Orphan Eleven" was a quick and enjoyable read. I would give it to students who wer ...more
Katrina Tangen
3.5 stars. I feel like the orphanage/mutism/stuttering and the circus are two different stories that didn’t totally come together. I think I would have liked it more if it focused on one or the other. (Love to hate Bald Doris, though!)
Jul 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am not one to read books with circus themes, but I do like elephants and Gennifer Choldenko, so I gave this book a go and you know, I ended up finding the descriptive circus life quite interesting. I think the characters is what made me enjoy the story. Readers root for Lucy from page one and also for her fellow orphans, Eugene, Nico, and yes - even the angry, lying Bald Doris. Many of the eclectic people they meet at the circus are likable while the bad people are realistic and make readers w ...more
Mar 31, 2021 rated it liked it
I'm ranking it a 3 because it didn't suck me in, personally, but I'll certainly recommend this to kid readers.

Lucy and three other kids escape a horrible orphanage, manage to get to a circus, and the circus has elephants! Lucy is enthusiastic about them, but has to manage her overwhelming fear of speaking in order to work with them. Things are looking up, but the orphanage ladies refuse to let Lucy go. And Lucy refuses to let go of the dream of finding her sister, Dilly. Thanks to letters from t
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lucy had been placed in an orphanage, the Home for Friendless Children, by her step-father after her mother died and is now eleven years old. She hopes that her older sister Dilly, who would now be seventeen, will come and claim her someday. Meanwhile, she has gotten in trouble again and has to do extra work, she, another girl and two boys are left working outside the fence. Lucy sees her opportunity and runs off, only to find that the other kids have followed her and now they are all trying to ...more
Historical fiction set in 1939 about four orphans who seize the opportunity to flee their painful existence at an the Home for Friendless Children, which is run by two unscrupulous adults and exploited by unethical researchers. They find themselves jostled in the back of Bernadette's pick-up, and speeding toward Chicago where they hope to connect with friends and family, until their plan disintegrates. Streetwise Bernadette has foreseen a problem and has planted a phone number for Lucy, a select ...more
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating story of orphans combined with circus. Lucy (who has become selectively mute) and three others with the help of the OOFO (Order of Fine Orphans) escape from the Home for Friendless Children and make their way via several digressions to Saachi's Circus where Lucy becomes an apprentice elephant girl. In the the Afterword, Choldenko explains the factual elements behind the book-- the circus lore and history gained from reading and visits to Baraboo, Wisconsin, home of the Ringling Broth ...more
Jessica Harrison
This is the first novel I’ve read by Gennifer Choldenko, who is well known for her Tales from Alcatraz series. Based on Orphan Eleven, it’s not hard to see why she’s a Newberry Honor author. She’s excellent at setting both scene and pacing.

There’s a charm to Orphan Eleven that you wouldn’t immediately consider based on the above synopsis. But it’s there nonetheless. Lucy’s dogged determinedness and inner strength are the trunk from which her story branches out. Experiencing the circus through he
Helen Plum
Nov 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Elissa: A realistic historical fiction set in 1930s Midwest touches on an actual science experiment inflicted on children. Lucy used to be able to speak, but now she’s mute and living in a terrible orphanage far from her sister who promised to come back for her. One day, Lucy and some other children escape and join the circus (yes, really!). As each child finds their place, Lucy wants to work with the elephants. However, she is not permitted to do so unless she can talk. If that wasn’t enough, L ...more
May 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thanks, NetGalley, for the eARC of this book. This is a fast paced, highly engaging book. Readers will fall in love with Lucy, who is so endearing from the beginning that you will not be able to help rooting for her. The supporting cast of characters are also very vivid and (mostly) likable. The plot moves quickly and the action will keep even reluctant readers engaged. Having been around the circus when I was younger, the story was entirely authentic and thoroughly entertaining. This is a great ...more
Jun 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
First I loved the characters, but the plot pacing became a favorite part, too! This historical fiction novel does a wonderful job of building the tension in the story. It’s about The Circus! It’s also about the sad experience of orphans in the early 20th century. Jennifer did detailed research and wove the facts into the story. I loved the additional end matter to provide those details for readers. Adults who share this book with young readers should read and share that end matter to set the sta ...more
The Marvelous Ms. Kaia
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
A wonderfully woven tale! Great for middle grade readers. Story of friendship, finding your true self and adventure. "Four orphans have escaped from the Home for Friendless Children. One is Lucy, who used to talk and sing. No one knows why she doesn't speak anymore; silence is her protection.

The orphans find work and new friends at a traveling circus. Lucy loves caring for the elephants, but she must be able to speak to them, and to warn others of danger. If Lucy doesn't find her voice, she'll b
Oct 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perfect Historical Fiction

I love the history in this. Mentioning the exploitation of children back then, this story also countered the horrible suffering with a positive side in growth and development for child labor through apprenticeships. Such opportunities may have detached the nuclear family constraints of obligation and pressure with the freedom to love and trust those who remained loyal and willing. Choices affected by progress dictate the happiness of your future...NOT letting the past i
May 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-grade
What a wonderful page-turning read! From Lucy to Bald Doris to the home for Friendless Children to the people of the circus, Choldenko nails the adventure and drama of the 1930s circus life and cruel psychological "studies" that were once done on human subjects. There is so much to love here -- from the elephants to Nico and dear Dilly, who never gives up looking for her sister.

This feels like a classic that kids will love!
Jul 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my honest review.

I LOVED this amazing middle grade novel about four orphans who have escaped from a miserable orphanage in search of a better life. Set in the 1930s when traveling circuses were popular, the book takes us on an action-packed ride through our protagonist Lucy’s journey to find out about her long-lost sister and puzzling past. Excellent storytelling, and I always love books involving elephants!
Mary Choate
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a surprisingly delightful reading experience! It was sitting on my shelf for months before I finally got around to it. I’m a sucker for a red-headed orphan story. And then she runs away with a gang of misfit orphans to join a circus?! I love unraveling the Lucy’s background. My daughter (11 yo) really liked it too. We’ve had a great discussion about the importance of words and kindness l, friendship and second chances. Happy reading!
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There’s a Lego in my bum which fits with the Lego in my chair and when I sit down to write, I hear the satisfying snap of the two pieces fitting together. I love words, dictionaries, thesauruses, sharp pencils, the smell of book ink and the delicious art of carving out sentences on clean white paper. I love to slip into another person’s skin and feel what it’s like to live another life. I love whe ...more

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