Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson


     I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader copy, often referred to as an ARC, from Deborah Kovacs, @deborahkovacs, & Walden Pond Press, @WaldenPondPress.  It didn’t arrive at the best of times however . . . it was that time of finishing up - finishing up the school year, finishing up teaching a writing class at the local university, finishing up my Literacy and finally, finishing up requirements for a curriculum coordinator’s license. But even with all this going on, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day was a book I couldn’t put down.

     Anderson doesn’t disappoint in his development of each and every character in this book. Ms. Bixby is an elementary school teacher, but not just any elementary school teacher. She belongs in that very small group of people who were just born to teach - those teachers that are the change-makers in children’s lives. 

I was gripped with each of the three boys’ stories. Topher, Brand and Steve are best friends but each come from different homes and experiences. Although each feels he is the only one with the special relationship with Ms. Bixby, as we read, we discover that all three are correct.

     If you are lucky, you have had a teacher or two like Ms. Bixby in your life. She was that teacher that never had to raise her voice, ever; the one that made each and every student in her class feel like they were special; the one that made learning so interesting and fun.  My first such experience was in third grade. I knew a bit about Mrs. Taylor because my sister, Ann, had Mrs. Taylor when she was in third grade. When my sister was in Mrs. Taylor’s class she learned to knit from her in an after school-knitting club. This was 1962 and just not done! When I had Mrs. Taylor some high school students brought in the frogs they had dissected and let us look at them and poke around at them  . . .unbelievable . . . I remember when our reading group had a real treasure hunt around the classroom after reading a story about the topic. Mrs. Taylor was the first teacher I had ever met that was so creative, so fun yet so challenging, all at the same time. We all hope to be that type of teacher – like Mrs. Taylor, like Ms. Bixby.

     Perhaps that is why three of her students, Topher, Steve and Brand, decide to ditch school for the first time in their lives and risk the wrath of their parents, in order to visit their teacher in the hospital. The trip isn’t as easy as anticipated, as they make some stops and purchases they need in order to give Ms. Bixby a perfect day.  With the book told from the point of views of each of the boys, we learn more about each of them. We learn about their lives and why they need Ms. Bixby in them.

     This is a book that you need to read and then you need to put into the hands of readers. It is powerful, sincere, funny and tender. Anderson’s storytelling pulls you into the lives of these characters and makes you root for them. There are moments of sadness, fear and anger too – genuine emotions that our kids might not always share. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day would be a great read aloud and one that you must have on your classroom and library shelves.

     The first 45 pages of the book are available to read here and a youtube video by Walden Press here. There are two ways to win an autographed copy of this book. Please leave a comment and/or join my blog. Don’t miss out on this one!

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