a middle grades read about the significance of time – in one’s life and in the art of storytelling – wendy mass’s (2009) 11 birthdays is a must read for writers looking to integrate elements of time into their work. i was so captivated by mass’s story of amanda and leo’s eleventh birthday(s) that it took me a couple of pages (or maybe about one birthday) for me to figure out what was happening! 11 birthdays provides writers several layers (of birthday cake) to discuss.
the way mass is able to skillfully convey that amanda and leo relive their eleventh birthdays eleven times is complex, and discussions around mass’s narrative techniques are worth having. how mass is able to rely more on the reader’s understanding of the reliving aspect as amanda and leo relive more versions of their eleventh birthdays is also worth studying. at what point in the novel can mass assume readers know what she is doing? 11 birthdays is a model text for those writers who want to write a middle grades piece that includes complicated time elements.
i think another aspect of mass’s book worth discussing is the wonderful female-male relationship she creates. her decision to resist the cliched romantic crush story line permits her to delve deeper into amanda and leo. ‘avoiding the crush’ allows mass to develop amanda into a confident and independent (well, at least when she is out of the enchantment) adolescent. i might spend some time discussing how the crush story line is capable of both limiting and advancing a narrative.
and speaking of enchantment, how writers introduce magical or supernatural elements is important to consider. writers should take note of the way mass inserts enchantment into realistic fiction. how is mass able to include enchantment in a way that does not detract from the genre in which she is writing? in what ways are writers confined to a genre? or are they?
so don’t be fooled by the simplistic cover art or the title. this is more than a middle grades book about a birthday party.