Welcome to Common Core Monday where each week we will take a look at a work of literature found in the Common Core Standards list of exemplar texts. Many of the works found on the list are beloved treasures from classic literature. Others, such as Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban and Sherman Alexi’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, raise serious questions about what kids are reading.
AUTHOR: Sandra Cisneros
GENRE: Short story
GRADE LEVEL RECOMMENDED: 6-8
Eleven is the kind of story that makes you remember exactly what it is like to be in the 5th grade – on your worst day in the 5th grade. It’s Rachel’s birthday, but she doesn’t feel eleven. She knows that inside she is still 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, ,3, 2, and 1… Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.
So, on her birthday when her teacher, Mrs. Price, insists that, not only does Rachel own, but that she must also wear a ratty old sweater found in the coat closet, Rachel feels 3. And she cries in front of everyone like she is 3. Her birthday is ruined.
That’s it really. That is the basic plot of Eleven. It is a very simple yet very powerful story. It is powerful because Cisneros takes her readers back in time – back to a time when being forced to wear an ugly sweater in front of your entire class was unbearably humiliating. It is powerful because, through Mrs. Price, we see the devastating impact a seemingly meaningless and careless error can have on a child. Eleven is powerful because through Rachel, in only three short pages, we see that we are all eleven – at least sometimes.
My own daughters were not required to read Eleven in school, so I required it at home. Kids need stories like this one for two reasons. 1. It shows them that they arent’ the only ones who have felt 3 even when they were much older. 2. Eleven teaches empathy. We are allowed to glimpse inside someone else’s humiliation. We ache for Rachel.
Sometimes now when I look back on things that mortified me in middle school, I can laugh. The melodrama of it all is so funny. But every time I read Eleven, I cry. I cry even though I am 44. Because deep down I guess I’m also 43, 42, 41, 40,… well, you get the idea.
Note: To read Eleven, simply Google a free PDF copy of the story. You’ll be glad you did.