Earlier this summer I attended an open house at a school where I taught my first group of students. It was to honor the school’s fifty years of teaching and learning. I was only a part of eight of those years, but remembered the time fondly. I wondered on this day if there would be any former students who sat in my classroom, patiently (for the most part), as I learned how to teach.
Yes, many did return. Thank goodness for name tags, although a few came back to me like family. I’d recognize a crooked smile, a familiar nod, or a giggle that followed them into adulthood, and then I’d remember their 12-year-old face and name.
What struck me most about this celebration were the comments from students to their former teachers. Their path in life often attributed to the teacher they’d only seen for 180 days. Yes, one teacher can make a difference (Thanks Mr. Osse).
Several weeks later I began reading MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY. The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of three sixth grade boys, Topher, Brand and Steve. They each move the plot forward but also reminisce about what events caused their deep connection with Ms. Bixby. It’s fascinating and effective story telling even though you feel like the ending might be a heart breaker.
These three boys provide humor and emotion as they go on a rather wild one day mission. As the new school year begins, I hope many more will take the trip with them. In the words of Brand, you’ll find it to be frawesome and frad… along with shedding a few tears.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2016 PAGE COUNT: 320
FULL PLOT (From HARPER COLLINS PUBLISHERS)
Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The good ones. The not-so-good ones. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. But Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like the indignity of school is worthwhile. Who makes the idea of growing up less terrifying. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.
Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she is very sick and won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a plan. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand just what Ms. Bixby means to Topher, Brand, and Steve—and what they are willing to go to such great lengths to tell her.
John David Anderson, the acclaimed author of Sidekicked, returns with a story of three kids, a very special teacher, and one day that none of them will ever forget.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY by John David Anderson
- Topher. He likes to draw and is quick with the comebacks and first liners. He saves one of his best for the end. His voice takes the epilogue that explains how this special day came to be. He reminded me of a few Topher’s in my classroom and that alone made me glad to have taught them.
- Brand. His connection to Ms. Bixby is unique. It shows you what teachers will sometimes do to make success possible. Brand’s list of new words he creates is also a highlight. Funny and perceptive. His home life not so much.
- Steve. His strict Asian parents, and a brain that forgets very little makes Steve transformation so powerful. For a long time you think he’s just tagging along but one trip into a McDonald’s changes everything.
- If you know this age group then the crazy antics they get themselves into seem entirely realistic. I’ll smile every time a piece of cheesecake comes my way.
- This one could have been another book that adults love and the intended 8-12 year old audience kind of just shrugs. In the hands of this gifted author, the crazy humorous events should win over any kid.
FAVORITE LINES: (And so many to choose from!)
Ms. Bixby sighs the Teacher Sigh. The one they must give you as you walk out the door with your teaching degree. Equal parts exasperation, disappointment, and longing for summer vacation. “Did you tell Rebecca she had cooties?”
It’s a question for all three of us, but Steve, thankfully, answers. He has all the answers.
“We informed her of her positive diagnosis, yes. But only in the interest of keeping the rest of the population safe. It was for the greater good.”
FROM Mr. Anderson’s WEBSITE:
I will be cutting my Diet Coke consumption to approximately one a day, in accordance with the New Year’s Resolution dictated to me by my daughter, so if I seem cranky, you’ll know it’s just the caffeine withdrawal. Provided I can stay awake, I plan to keep writing like a madman. I already have ideas for my next four books. Who knows, maybe 2017 I can publish three novels. And start a band. I wonder if Weekend needs an amateur ukulele player.
Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.
Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.