Choldenko, Gennifer 1957-

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Choldenko, Gennifer 1957-


Born October 20, 1957, in Santa Monica, CA; daughter of Jimmy (a business executive) and Ann (a physical therapist) Johnson; married Jacob Brown; children: Ian Brown, Kai Brown. Education: Brandeis University, B.A. (English and American literature; cum laude); Rhode Island School of Design, B.F.A. (illustration).


Home—San Francisco Bay area, CA. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer. Worked in various jobs, including horseback riding instructor for seeing-and hearing-impaired children.

Awards, Honors

New York Library Top 100 Book designation, Cuyahoga County Library Best Book selection, and National Parenting Center Seal of Approval, all 1997, all for Moonstruck; California Book Award Silver Medal for Young Adults, and International Reading Association/Children's Book Council (CBC) Children's Choice, all for Notes from a Liar and Her Dog; Newbery Honor Book designation, Carnegie Medal shortlist, American Library Association Notable Book designation, New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age inclusion, CBC/National Council for Social Studies Notable Social Studies Trade Book designation, Special Needs Award (UK), Beatty Award, California Library Association, Judy Lopez Honor Award, Northern California Book Award, and Parents' Choice Silver Medal, all 2005, and California Young Readers Medal, Garden State Teen Book Award, and Keystone State Reading Association Young-adult Book Award, all 2007, all for Al Capone Does My Shirts.



Moonstruck: The True Story of the Cow Who Jumped over the Moon, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.

How to Make Friends with a Giant, illustrated by Amy Walrod, Putnam (New York, NY), 2006.

Louder, Lili, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, Putnam (New York, NY), 2007.


Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

Al Capone Does My Shirts, Putnam's (New York, NY), 2004.

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.

Choldenko's books have been translated into several languages, including Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish.


Notes from a Liar and Her Dog was adapted for audiocassette, Listening Library, 2001. Al Capone Does My Shirts was adapted for audiocassette, Recorded Books, 2004. If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period was adapted for audiocassette, Recorded Books, 2007.


Selling her first book manuscript to a publisher at age thirty-three, Gennifer Choldenko has gone on to become an award-winning author of both picture books for young children and novels for middle-grade readers. In her fast-paced novels, Choldenko focuses on serious topics that range from chronic lying to autism, but makes them seem fresh through her light, witty touch. Featuring both her characteristic humor and her offbeat perspective, Choldenko's novel Al Capone Does My Shirts earned her the prestigious 2005 Newbery Honor Book designation, one of several honors accorded the book. Crediting her father, an unpublished but passionate writer, for inspiring her own efforts as an author, Choldenko added on her home page: "It took me a long time to … be willing to take the risks necessary to pursue a career as a writer."

Choldenko was born in Santa Monica, California, in the late 1950s, the youngest in a family that included four boisterous children. As a child, her first love was horses, and her second was writing and making up stories. Choldenko's interests turned to poetry in high school, but during her years as a student at Brandeis University she returned to prose and graduated cum laude with a dual major in American literature and English (the school did not yet offer a major in creative writing). Later, she earned an illustration degree from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, where she produced her first picture-book text, Moonstruck: The True Story of the Cow Who Jumped over the Moon

Aided by illustrations created by Paul Yalowitz, Moonstruck sheds new light on the perplexing line "And the cow jumped over the moon," which has puzzled generations of listeners, young and old like. In Choldenko's version, the rhyme's narrator—a horse—explains that the black-and-white bovine in question accomplished the high-flying task after training with a group of agile horses that regularly made the leap into the night sky to skim the top of the moon and return to Earth. Calling the picture book "a giggle from beginning to end," a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "clearly had fun setting tradition on its ear, and her glee is evident throughout." In her review of Choldenko's debut for Booklist, Ilene Cooper dubbed Moonstruck "fractured and funny" and called it "a fun read-aloud—and a tribute to hard work."

Although Choldenko has focused predominately on middle-grade novels since writing Moonstruck, she returned to the picture-book format in How to Make Friends with a Giant, which features cartoon illustrations by Amy Walrod. In this humorous tale, Jake worries that he is too short until he makes a friend of Jacomo, the new boy who moves next door. While Jake is short for his young age, Jacomo is practically a giant. Watching Jacomo deal with the jokes and frustrations of his first-grade classmates over his clumsy strength and cumbersome size, Jake encourages and protects his new friend, in the process learning to accept his own differences as well. In Horn Book Christina M. Hepperman dubbed How to Make Friends with a Giant a "perceptive portrait of … friendship," in which the author shows that "the best way to get over your own insecuri- ties is to help someone else with theirs." A Kirkus Reviews writer also praised the story and found young Jake to be an "inventive" friend, while in School Library Journal Grace Oliff described Choldenko's book as "a quirky tale of two opposites."

Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, Choldenko's first novel for middle-grade readers, introduces preteen narrator Antonia "Ant" MacPherson, a middle sibling who finds herself constantly on the outs with her two perfect sisters: "Your Highness Elizabeth" and "Katherine the Great." Because her relationship with her parents is equally strained, Ant's only confidants are a Chihuahua named Pistachio and her best friend Harrison, an artist who is obsessed with poultry. As a way to mask her unhappiness, the sixth grader embroiders her life with elaborate falsehoods until a perceptive teacher helps her come to terms with her own role in her difficult family relationship. Noting that Choldenko "vividly captures the feelings of a middle child torn between wanting to be noticed and wanting to be invisible," a Publishers Weekly contributor called Notes from a Liar and Her

Dog a "funny and touching novel." Reviewing the book for School Library Journal Connie Tyrrell Burns dubbed Ant's narration "humorous, tongue-in-cheek, and as irreverent as her independent heroine," and Booklist critic Susan Dove Lempke called Choldenko's story "funny, moving, and completely believable."

In Al Capone Does My Shirts Choldenko returns to middle-grade angst, this time by exploring the trauma of moving to a new home. Set in 1935, the novel introduces twelve-year-old Moose Flanagan. Moose is less than enthused when he learns that his family is moving to Alcatraz, an island prison. In order to afford his autistic sister Natalie's tuition at a special school in San Francisco, Moose's dad is working as a prison guard on the island, guarding infamous criminals like mobster Al Capone. Moose has to leave his winning baseball team behind to make the move, and he feels that his sacrifice has gone unnoticed. Now he sees very little of his busy father, and his mom is almost totally involved with Natalie's illness and education. A new confidante is found in the warden's daughter, Piper, a feisty new friend who leads Moose into mischief as he learns to accept his family's situation and appreciate his parents' sacrifices.

In Booklist Ed Sullivan praised Al Capone Does My Shirts as a "warm, engaging coming-of-age story," and a Publishers Weekly contributor described the book as "fast-paced and memorable," citing Choldenko's ability to create "unusual characters and plot lines." According to School Library Journal reviewer Miranda Doyle, the story is "told with humor and skill," and Paula Rohrlick wrote in Kliatt that the author couches with in her story a "sensitive portrait of autism and how it affects a family." In Kirkus Reviews a writer noted that Choldenko's "pacing is exquisite" and deemed Al Capone Does My Shirts a "great read," a view that was shared by the Newbery awards committee in deeming the book a Newbery Honor Book.

Al Capone Does My Shirts was inspired by a newspaper article Choldenko read that discussed Alcatraz's evolution from prison to museum. It also discussed the little-known fact that, during its years as a prison, the island was home to the families of prison guards and officials. While researching her book, Choldenko served as a docent on Alcatraz island, immersing herself in the history of the institution, its inmates, and the prison support staff. She also took inspiration from her own sister, Gina, who suffered from autism. The book's title comes from a joke Moose and Piper make about the prison's famous inmate and his prison jobs. Capone worked in the prison laundry during his stay on Alcatraz, and military personnel stationed in San Francisco during World War II used to make a similar joke: "Al Capone does my shorts."

Also taking place in California, If A Tree Falls at Lunch Period takes readers to an exclusive middle school

where the friendship between two seventh graders is explored. Overweight Kirsten is the daughter of a doctor, and her weight is the result of dealing with many stresses in her tension-fraught family. Walker, a scholarship student and one of only three African-American students at Mountain School, was raised by a single mom; he misses his old friends and does not share many of the experiences of his fellow students. In her novel, Choldenko tells her story through two alternating narratives: Kirstin's first-person drama as well as a third-person overview of Walker's struggle to fit in. According to Horn Book contributor Susan Dove Lempke, If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period "explores themes of racism and wealth with subtlety and insight," while a Kirkus Reviews writer noted that "Choldenko's talent for characters and conversation brings the two voices instantly to life." While the Kirkus Reviews critic suggested the novel's value in sparking "book-club or classroom discussion," School Library Journal critic Lillian Hecker cited If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period for its "sparkling characterization and touches of humor."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, March 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Moonstruck: The True Story of the Cow Who Jumped over the Moon, p. 1169; April 15, 2001, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, p. 1550; February 1, 2004, Ed Sullivan, review of Al Capone Does My Shirts, p. 976.

Horn Book, March-April, 2005, "Newbery Medal," p. 235; September-October, 2006, Christine M. Heppermann, review of How to Make Friends with a Giant, p. 563; July-August, 2007, Susan Dove Lempke, review of If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2004, review of Al Capone Does My Shirts, p. 220; June 1, 2006, review of How to Make Friends with a Giant, p. 570; August 15, 2007, review of If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period.

Kliatt, March 1, 2004, review of Al Capone Does My Shirts, p. 220.

Publishers Weekly, February 10, 1997, review of Moonstruck, p. 83; May 14, 2001, review of Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, p. 82; July 7, 2003, review of Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, p. 74; February 2, 2004, review of Al Capone Does My Shirts, p. 78; August 7, 2006, review of How to Make Friends with a Giant, p. 58; July 15, 2007, review of If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, p. 167.

School Library Journal, April, 1997, Patricia Pearl Doyle, review of Moonstruck, p. 91; April, 2001, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, p. 139; March, 2004, Miranda Doyle, review of Al Capone Does My Shirts, p. 203; July, 2006, Grace Oliff, review of How to Make Friends with a Giant, p. 70; August, 2007, Lillian Hecker, review of If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period.

Times Educational Supplement, August 6, 2004, Jan Mark, review of The Rock and a Hard Case, p. 25.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2005, review of Al Capone Does My Shirts, p. 441.


Gennifer Choldenko Home Page, (August 1, 2007).

Quercus Web site, (July, 2006), interview with Choldenko.