Our Childhoodmemoriesaffect us throughout our lives.Sometimes we have happy memories that make us smile in our later years: warm times with parents and relatives or happy experiences with friends. Other memories, however, may be negative: illness, death, abuse, or separation from loved ones.
The stories in Module 1 explore traumatic events in the lives of three young children. As you read, consider how each child copes with the situation. You may recall similar experiences from your own childhood.
Eleven by Sandra Cisneros
A. Pre-Reading About the Author
1. Think Before You Read
Answer the following questions:
1. Have you ever been disappointed by your birthday? How did you feel about your birthday when you were a child? Did your birthday make you feel older?
2. Do you remember being embarrassed by a teacher when you were a child? What happened?
3. What are some things a child might do in a situation where an adult, who has more power, is being unfair to himor her?
Readthe preview of the story and try to guess the meaning of the words in boldprint.
Today is Rachelís eleventh birthday. As Rachel knows, when youíre eleven, youíre not just eleven. For example, sometimes you can feel like a dumb ten-year-old or like a scared five-year-old. Mrs. Price, Rachelís teacher has found an ugly, old red sweater. Mrs. Price says that the sweater belongs to Rachel. When Rachel tries to tell Mrs. Price that the sweater isnít hers, Mrs. Price says this is nonsense and puts the sweater on Rachelís desk. Rachel canít do anything, and she feels very unhappy, even though itís her birthday. Rachel canít even pretend that sheís not unhappy. She wishes that she could be invisible or far away.
Using the Vocabulary
Fill in the blanks below with the boldwords from the Story Preview above.
Children love to make up stories and ___pretend________ they are other people or animals. Some children even have a(n) ___________________ friend. The fact that no one else can see this friend doesnít make the friend seem less real to the child.
Sometimes, bad dreams can make children feel ____________________ . When children tell adults they are afraid, the adults should take what the children say seriously, they should never treat it as _________________ .
From the Story Preview, try to predict what will happen. Which of the following predictions do you think is the most probable? Circle your choice or give an answer that you think is better.
1. Rachel will be able to explain everything to Mrs. Price.
"Eleven" has a first person narrator.This means that the story is told in the first person by the main character, Rachel, rather than in the third person, as many stories are. The first person narrator refers to him- or herself as "I." Because Rachel tells the story, we see what happens through her eyes. We get a clear sense, not just of what Rachel says and does, but also of how Rachel thinks, how she feels, and what she wishes for. We get to know Rachel.
Focus As you read "Eleven," ask yourself what you know about Rachel.
B. The StoryAbout the Author
About the Author
Sandra Cisneros (1954-), the only daughter in a family of seven Ůhildren, was born in Chicago. Her Mexican-American heritage, of which she is proud, is evident in many of her short stories. Cisneros has had a successful and varied career. In addition to being a poet and fiction writer, she has worked as an arts administrator and has taught students who had dropped out of high school. She has written four books of poetry and two books of short stories. In many of her short stories, such as ďElevenĒ, Cisneros creates a view of the world through the eyes of a child. The language of these stories is simple and direct, but their ideas are serious and important.
What they donít understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when youíre eleven, youíre also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you donít. You open your eyes and everythingís just like yesterday, only itís today. And you donít feel eleven at all. You feel like youíre still ten. And you are Ė underneath the year that makes you eleven.
Like some days you might say something stupid, and thatís the part of you thatís still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mamaís lap because youíre scared, and thatís the part of you thatís five. And maybe one day when youíre all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if youíre three, and thatís okay. Thatís what I tell Mama when sheís sad and needs to cry. Maybe sheís feeling three.
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. Thatís how being eleven years old is.
You donít feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say eleven when they ask you. And you donít feel smart eleven, not until youíre almost twelve. Thatís the way it is.
Only today I wish I didnít have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two Iíd have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I wouldíve known how to tell her it wasnít mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.
ďWhose is this?Ē Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater up in the air all the class to see. ďWhose? Itís been sitting in the cloakroom for a moth.Ē
ďNot mine,Ē says everybody. ďNot me.Ē
ďIt has to belong to somebody,Ē Mrs. Price keeps saying, but nobody can remember. Itís an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. Itís maybe a thousand years old and even if it belonged to me I wouldnít say so.
Maybe because Iím skinny, maybe because she doesnít like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, ďI think it belongs to Rachel.Ē An ugly sweater like that, all ragged and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.
ďThatís not, I donít, youíre notÖ Not mine,Ē I finally say in little voice that was maybe me when I was four.
ďOf course itís yours,Ē Mrs. Price says. ďI remember you wearing it once.Ē Because sheís older and the teacher sheís right and Iím not.
Not mine, not mine, not mine, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I donít know why but all of a sudden Iím feeling sick inside like the part of me thatís three wants to come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven. Mama is making a cake for me for tonight, and when Papa comes home everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you.
But when the sick feeling goes away I open my eyes, the red sweaterís still sitting there like a big red mountain. I move the red sweater to the corner of my desk with my ruler. I move my pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. I even move my chair a little to the right. Not mine, not mine, not mine.
In my head Iím thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater and throw it over the schoolyard fence, or leave it hanging on a parking meter, or bunch it up into a little ball and toss it in the alley. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everybody, "Now, Rachel, that's enough," because she sees I've shoved the red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of my desk and it's hanging all over the edge like a waterfall, but I don't care.
'Rachel," Mrs. Price says. She says it like she's getting mad. "You put that on right now and no more nonsense.Ē
ďBut itís not Ė Ē
ďNow!Ē Mrs. Price says.
This is when I wish I wasnít eleven, because all the years inside of me Ė ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one Ė are pushing at the back of my eyes when I put one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that smells like cottage cheese, and then the other arm through the other and stand there with my arms apart like if the sweater hurts me and it does, all itchy and full of germs that arenít even mine.
Thatís when everything Iíve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden Iím crying if front of everybody. I wish I was invisible but Iím not. Iím eleven and itís my birthday today and Iím crying like Iím three in front of everybody. I put my head down on the desk and bury my face in my stupid clown-sweater arms. My face all hot and spit coming out of my mouth because I canít stop the little animal noises from coming out of me, until there arenít any more tears left in my eyes, and itís just my body shaking like when you have the hiccups, and my whole head hurts like when you drink milk too fast.
But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. That stupid Phyllis Lopez, who is even dumber than Sylvia Saldivar, says she remembers the red sweater is hers! I take it off right away and give it to her, only Mrs. Price pretends like everythingís OK.
Today Iím eleven. Thereís a cake Mamaís making for tonight, and when Papa comes home from work weíll eat it. Thereíll be candles and presents and everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you, Rachel, only itís too late.
I'm eleven today. I'm eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. I wish I was anything but eleven, because I want today to be far away already, far away like arunaway balloon, like a tiny 0 in the sky, so tiny-tiny you have to close your eyes to see it.
C . After Reading
Understanding the Story
Answer these questions.
1. Where does the story take place?
2. Who is the narrator (the person telling the story)? How old is she?
3. Why is the day special to the narrator?
4. Why does Mrs. Price give Rachel the sweater?
5. What does the sweater look like?
6. What does Rachel plan to do with the sweater during lunchtime?
7. Why doesn't she do what she planned? What happens instead?
8. How does Rachel finally get rid of the sweater?
9. How does she feel at the end of the story?
10. According to Rachel, how is growing older similar to an onion or a tree with rings?