Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day - John David Anderson

Title: Ms. Bixby's Last Day
Author: John David Anderson
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 300 pages
Genre: Children's Realistic Fiction
Started: October 11, 2016
Finished: October 12, 2016

From the inside cover:

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'll never 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 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.

I'm a teacher, I'm a sucker for inspirational teacher stories, especially since I've had moments like this from students and parents where they hit me right in the feels and my eyes tear up and I can live for weeks on the compliments they give me. This book will simultaneously rip your heart out and rebuild it, it's funny yet tragic, both sad and a testament to the human spirit. I don't necessarily think the target age group (middle-grade) will appreciate and understand the complexities of this particular story, but this is still a must-read.

Topher, Brand, and Steve are all friends in Ms. Bixby's sixth grade class, the teacher everyone wants. She has pink streaks in her hair, puts inspirational quotes (that the boys call Bixbyisms) around the classroom, has a sarcastic sense of a humour, and actually listens to her students. With a few weeks left in the school year, she announces that she is sick with cancer and will be leaving to start treatment. With a farewell party already planned for the following week, the three boys are thrown off when Ms. Bixby enters the hospital early. They never got to say goodbye, never got to tell her things that needed to be said. When they overhear that Ms. Bixby will be transferred out of state for special treatment in a few days, they realize they may never get that chance. So the boys form a plan to skip school in order to visit Ms. Bixby in the hospital and give her the send-off she deserves, recreating what she once told them was how she would want to spend her last day on earth.

First off, the one thing that bugged me about the book. The boys don't act like they're twelve. They either act much younger (giving a scientific breakdown of cooties to a female classmate...if they're old enough to use vocabulary like that, they're too old to believe girls have cooties), or their internal monologues place them at mid to late teenage years. So that was slightly annoying, but thankfully the rest of the book manages to compensate for that early annoyance.

Ms. Bixby is positively lovely, and parts of her live on in many of my past teachers and my current co-workers. She quotes Atticus Finch to the boys and manages to figure out exactly what each one needs from her and delivers. The chapters alternate their narration from Topher to Steve to Brand (usually in that order), so we teasingly learn little tidbits along the way about exactly how important Ms. Bixby is in each boy's life. Brand is street-smart, Topher is creative, and Steve is the brainiac result of a tiger-mom type of family; Brand was my favourite, I wanted to cuddle the prickly little dude.

Everyone needs to read this, especially if you work in education. This is a touching story that will make you reach for the kleenex and restore your faith in humanity at the same time.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's cute and fitting for the story. I love how Steve's honourable mention ribbon is tacked on the corner of the door, it's a nice touch.

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