Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day
Author: John David Anderson
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (2016)
Summary: Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. 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 won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other. ♦
I’ve noticed that a bunch of people, in both the KidLit community and my library community, were reading Ms. Bixby’s Last Day when the book came out in June 2016. I’ve found both cover and title intriguing, although sadness washed over me when I saw the book.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day was told in the alternating perspectives of three sixth-grade boys from Ms. Bixby’s class, namely Topher, Steve, and Brand. The sixth-graders’ love and high regard for Ms. Bixby were evident throughout the book. Allow me to share some of my favorite passages:
There are six kinds of teachers in the world. I know because we classified them once during indoor recess. First you have your Zombies: those are the ones who have been doing it for a few centuries, since Roosevelt was president… Then there are the Caff-Adds. Brand calls them Zuzzers… Then you have your Dungeon Masters. The red-pass-wielding ogres who wish paddling was still allowed in schools… Then you’ve got your Spielbergs. They’re not nearly as cool as Steven Spielberg. We just call them that because they show movies all the time… My personal favroites are the Noobs. The overachievers. Fresh picked from the teacher farm… The last kind we simply call the Good Ones. The ones who make the torture otherwise known as school somewhat bearable. You know when you want one of the Good One because you find yourself actually paying attention in class, even if it’s not art class. They’re the teachers you actually want to go back and say hi to the next year. The ones you don’t want to disappoint. Like Ms. B. (Topher)
[Ms. Bixby] has a way of making even minor victories seem big… Ms. Bixby, who once came to school wearing her bathrobe over her normal clothes because it was twenty degrees outside and she couldn’t find her coat. Ms. Bixby, who kept books scattered all around the room in the most unusual places because, as she put it, stories are everywhere, just waiting to be found. (Steve)
There were other things, too, little things. Like how she always chose The Hobbit as the class read-aloud and had different voices for every character. How she could be strict when she needed to be and sweet when she wanted to be and kind of a smart aleck all the times in between. But mostly there was the way she listened to you, giving you her full attention. All the other teachers, they’d keep looking around the room when you talked, but Ms. Bixby fixed you with her eyes and waited for you to finish no matter how long it took you to figure out what you wanted to say. (Brand)
I feel my heart swell as I type up this review. I feel like I’ve got something caught in my throat. I haven’t read other books by John David Anderson, but I believe him when he wrote in his Acknowledgments that Ms. Bixby’s Last day was a much quieter book than he’s used to writing. Quiet books, for him, are more challenging to write.
I loved reading Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. I think John David Anderson did a fantastic job writing this “quiet” novel. To witness three boys go through such an elaborate plan to come up with something special for Ms. Bixby was truly heartwarming. It breaks the image of young boys causing nothing but trouble in school.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, however, is more than about the three boys’ plan to give Ms. Bixby “the last day she deserves.” Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is a nod to all the Ms. Bixbys in the world who make this world a better place.
“We all have moments when we think nobody really sees us. When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed. But somebody notices, Topher. Somebody sees. Somebody out there probably thinks you’re the greatest thing in the whole world. Don’t ever think you’re not good enough.” (Ms. Bixby)
(Cue sound of my heart shattering in a million little pieces)
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day offers valuable lessons not only to kids but to teachers as well. I think John David Anderson is secretly telling teachers to channel the inner Ms. Bixby in them: the kind of teacher who pays attention to students, the kind who sees beyond grades and accomplishments, the kind who knows and understands the inner workings of their hearts.
Of course, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day talked a great deal about friendship. Tucked in between passages about Ms. Bixby were tiny stories about how Topher, Brand, and Steve met and became friends. At the end of the day, everything boiled down to one thing: loyalty. Leave it to Topher, Brand, and Steve to show you what it means to always be there for one another.
I cannot stress enough how beautiful and touching Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is. It’s almost like reading Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, except with three boys and a teacher with pink hair named Ms. Bixby. ♦
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is a 2016 CYBILS Finalist for middle grade fiction.