43 pages • 1 hour readWendy Mass
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Wendy Mass’s 11 Birthdays is a work of fiction aimed at an audience of middle-grade readers. The story focuses on the journey of Amanda Ellerby and her best-friend-turned-enemy, Leo Fitzpatrick, who find themselves doomed to repeat their 11th birthday until they repair their friendship. The novel explores the themes of Friendship, Rejection, and Fitting In, as well as The Power of Forgiveness and Magic and Fate. Mass, who writes for audiences of children, preteens, and teenagers, is a New York Times bestseller and the recipient of multiple awards. 11 Birthdays received the William Allen White Award, as well as a 2009 Library Guild Selection.
This guide is based on the Scholastic 2010 edition.
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When Amanda and Leo were born 11 years earlier, Angelina, an eccentric old woman from their town of Willow Falls, advises their parents that the two children should celebrate their birthdays together every year, and that they will be the best of friends. Angelina manufactures a double-booking at a popular children’s party venue to ensure that the tradition of shared birthday parties begins.
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The day before her 11th birthday, Amanda’s best friend, Stephanie, helps her to practice a back handspring in preparation for the gymnastics tryouts. Amanda is unsuccessful and dreads the tryouts the next day. Amanda’s best friend used to be Leo. Amanda overheard him at their joint 10th birthday party (the year before) telling friends that he doesn’t like sharing his party with Amanda every year and that he only does it because his mom makes him. Crying, Amanda ran home, and they haven’t spoken since. Amanda cannot forgive Leo, but she misses him and looks through her photo album of their shared birthdays.
Amanda feels dispirited when she wakes up on the morning of her 11th birthday. She is startled by a SpongeBob SquarePants balloon that her parents put in her room. Her father is sick and her mother has to rush to work, so Amanda and Kylie, Amanda’s 13-year-old sister, catch the bus to school. Stephanie doesn’t see Amanda and sits with Ruby, a popular girl whom Amanda doesn’t like. She feels better when she arrives at her locker, which Stephanie claims she has decorated in honor of Amanda’s birthday.
The class has a pop quiz in history class. Amanda passes it, but she sees Leo putting his head in his arms and assumes that he failed the quiz.
Tracy and Emma have made her a birthday cupcake, and her friends sing happy birthday to her at lunchtime. Amanda overhears people discussing Leo’s birthday party that night, which is at the same time as her own; she fears that no one will come to her party. She walks around the school for the rest of lunch time. A boy bursts out of a classroom crying because he left a periodic table assignment at home. Amanda does poorly in the gymnastics tryouts, failing to execute the back handspring. Stephanie makes the team, and Amanda dreads her becoming closer with the popular girls, such as Ruby, without her. That evening, Amanda does not enjoy her party. She doesn't like her Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz) outfit, which her mom chose for her, and lots of kids go to Leo’s party instead of hers. Amanda’s mother, who accidentally took Kylie’s science poster to work instead of her work presentation, gets a call from her boss after the party; she is fired from her job. Amanda shoves the SpongeBob balloon into the cupboard and goes to sleep.
Amanda is surprised to wake up to her alarm, as she assumes that it is Saturday. She sees the SpongeBob balloon floating in the middle of the room. Her mother and sister urge her to hurry up and get ready for school. In a daze, Amanda relives her very unpleasant 11th birthday, once again performing poorly at the gymnastics tryouts and noticing people slipping out of her party to go to Leo’s.
The next day, Amanda wakes up to the morning of her 11th birthday again. Pretending that she’s sick, Amanda convinces her mother to let her stay home. Mrs. Grayson, their neighbor, drives Amanda to the doctor in the middle of the day. On the way, she tells Amanda about an infamous old enmity between the Ellerbys (her ancestors) and the Fitzpatricks (Leo’s ancestors), which was mysteriously resolved one day. Amanda’s mother cancels her party, and they have pizza and watch a movie. Amanda is relieved and enjoys this evening far more than she did the day before.
The next day, it is her birthday again; Amanda decides to go to school. In history class, Leo passes her a note wishing her a happy birthday for the fourth time. They talk after class and ascertain that they are both stuck in the repeating loop. The humiliation of the gymnastics tryouts is easier to bear that day; she enjoys her party more, trying to make it more fun for those who came. The next morning, Amanda tells her mother that she has Kylie’s science poster, instead of her poster for a work presentation, and her mother is relieved. Leo and Amanda talk at school again. Leo apologizes for saying things he didn’t mean at their 10th birthday party. Amanda’s mother is fired even though she brought the correct poster.
The next day, Amanda and Leo both pretend they are sick and meet up for a day of fun. They use electric scooters “borrowed” from Leo’s neighbors and spend Leo’s savings on an extravagant brunch. Leo delivers a poem at the Senior Citizen’s Center, and Amanda drums at a band audition. They go to the mall, where they are apprehended by a security guard and returned to their very angry and worried families.
Amanda is relieved at the reset the next morning. She again tells her mother about the poster mix up. She and Leo realize that they need to find out more about the enchantment. That afternoon, Amanda skips gymnastics tryouts so that they can talk to a hypnotist (who was present at Leo’s party and may have caused the enchantment), but he knows nothing about it. The next afternoon, they go to the Senior Citizen’s Center and then the Willow Falls Historical Society.
When Leo and Amanda arrive at the historical society, Angelina is staffing the desk. Amanda recognizes her because Angelina occasionally drives their school bus. She tells them about Ellerby and Fitzpatrick, who were enemies until they mysteriously became best friends seemingly overnight. Leo and Amanda conclude that this historical fight, which started with disputes over the apples from their shared orchard, must have something to do with their own. They return to the senior center again the next day. It is closed, so they break in the back window and find Leo’s great-great-grandfather’s diary, which describes the way that he and Ellerby were trapped in a time loop of Harvest Day. Amanda suggests that night at her party that they should all go to Leo’s party, which they do. Amanda and Leo toast their friendship, confident that the enchantment will be broken.
However, the next day they wake up to find that it is still the Friday of their birthday. Angelina is driving the bus, so Amanda and Leo press her for answers. She admits that the potted plants that Leo and Amanda were given on their joint fifth birthdays were grown from seeds from their ancestors’ apple trees and that they must be nurtured and maintained. Amanda admits that she threw hers from her bedroom window the previous year. After school, Amanda goes to the marching band audition instead of gymnastics tryouts even though the marching band is considered uncool.
Amanda, Leo, and Angelina go to Amanda’s house after school and find the plant, which has taken root, growing beneath her window. Amanda repots the plant in her room. She and Leo have a combined birthday party and toast to their friendship.
The next morning, the friends are elated that it is Saturday. According to tradition, her family goes to Leo’s house and the two friends open their presents. Leo and Amanda vow to maintain their friendship.
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