Thursday, April 26, 2012
Middle Grade Fiction: 11 Birthdays (Wendy Mass)
Ever think about what it would be like to relive your birthday, every day? Experience what it might be like with 11 Birthdays.
Amanda and Leo are born on the same day in the same hospital. With a little help from “fate,” their parents meet in the hospital and again on their first birthday, leading to a close connection between the two families. Each year, Amanda and Leo grow in their friendship and look forward to celebrating their birthday together. Everything changes when Amanda overhears Leo saying unkind things about her to a group of boys at their 10th birthday party. So begins an “infamous” silent wall between them...until their 11th birthday. Amanda celebrates it without Leo. When she goes to sleep that night, she is relieved it is all over. Unfortunately, when she wakes up, her day begins EXACTLY like the day before. At first, she thinks it is some kinds of joke, but when the bus arrives, she knows it isn’t. Each morning after, she wakes up to find that it is still her 11th birthday! Sound fun? It isn’t. Her 11th birthday is a disaster! She has a miserable party without Leo, her mom gets fired, her dad is sick, she embarrasses herself at try outs, and her sister has her heart broken by a boy she likes. After a few days, Leo reaches out to her. He is stuck in this birthday rewind too! The duo work together each day trying to figure out what to do to fix what went wrong the first day and to mend their friendship in the process. They learn that the origin of the “curse” goes back to their great-great grandparents. They must solve the mystery of that famous feud and put things right in their own lives before they can finally move forward.
Both Amanda and Leo are likable and relatable characters. Each has fears and insecurities to overcome. They grow in their relationship with each other and those around them. Despite having the same day repeated, the children problem solve by using their previous experiences to change things—in most cases to make circumstances better, not only for themselves but others. One day they skip school to live out an ideal type birthday since there are no real consequences. While the day is mostly harmless fun, they do lie and sneak around. Another day is devoted to helping others they encounter. Many of them are spent working to piece together what happened to their ancestors many, many years earlier in order to learn how to break the curse. In the end, Amanda and Leo are close friends again, but they are unable to “fix” everything. For instance, Amanda’s mother still loses her job and Kylie (Amanda’s sister) does not get the boy she seeks. Nevertheless, the story ends with hope and optimism.
I know there is no “perfect” book. Kids have to do something “wrong” to have plot. As a parent, I have a concern though. Leo and Amanda lie…A LOT. You may be able to argue that in some circumstances they have to. If they tell the adults what is happening, no one will believe them. (Amanda does try once to tell her dad with no success.) There were other times though that they really did not have to lie for that reason. Though Amanda expresses some guilt over lying, it does not stop them. I do not believe the lying issue is a reason to prevent a child from reading it. Instead, I bring it up as an opportunity for parents/teachers to discuss the issue with their children using questions like:
- Is it ever okay to lie? If so, when?
- What are our family/school/class values on the subject of lying?
- What are possible outcomes of lying?
- Does this book illustrate “real” consequences for lying?
- Who are some other people, real or fictional, who lied? What was their outcome?