Happy Monday, guys!
Today, we're reviewing John David Anderson's beautifully touching Ms. Bixby's Last Day.
I never cry while reading. (Seriously. The last time I did was when I was reading Order of the Phoenix on release night.) However, I cried reading this, because it's a beautiful love letter to teachers, students and the unique love they have for one another.
Published June 21st 2016 by Walden Pond Press
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
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: a plan that starts with them cutting school for the first time in their lives and making their way across their hometown. Through the three different stories they tell, we begin to understand just what Ms. Bixby means to Topher, Brand, and Steve—and why they are willing to go to such great lengths to tell her.
Anderson introduces us to Topher, Brand and Steve, three twelve-year-old boys who have bonded via their friendship and their equal admiration for their sixth grade teacher, Ms. Bixby.
So when Ms. Bixby announces that she needs to take the year off to recover from illness, the three friends plan a one-day escapade to spend time with Ms. Bixby and celebrate the impact she’s had on their lives…
We’ve all had at least one teacher who has proven to be unforgettable, and Anderson does a beautiful job of showing just how much of that impact comes not from fantastic moments like doing all of the voices in The Hobbit or assigning activities like memorizing movie speeches, but from the day-to-day interactions that incrementally make people’s lives a little better.
As the three boys attempt to make their way to see her and have run-ins with an expensive white cheesecake, a bottle of wine and a bag of fries, Anderson has each of the boys recap their individual experiences through alternating chapters. We learn about moments of encouragement from Ms. Bixby ranging to encouragement for a burgeoning art talent, to reminder that grades aren’t the only endgame for school.
And most poignantly, Anderson shares Ms. Bixby’s attempts to help one of the trio carry on with household duties that are beyond his years, without judgment or any attempt to take things over for him. Instead, it’s just quiet companionship as the job gets done. It’s a brilliant reminder by Anderson that part of our time spent in school is learning how to grow at our own pace, and Bixby clearly sees that it’s only a matter of time, before things are set to rights.
In each of these instances, Anderson has crafted a genuine love letter and reminder to the heart, love and sacrifice that many teachers give year after year to their students, and it’s particularly humbling when readers are reminded that in fact, there are many Ms. Bixby’s across the world right now, doing very much the same thing.
Though the road trip absolutely doesn’t turn out as planned, even those misfortunes are a testament to the love that these boys have for Ms. Bixby. Their willingness to pull out all the stops to see her are a poignant reminder of how she’s helped them grow, and also a nice nod to the fact that sometimes, it’s okay if we recognize that our teachers are humans who also deserve to be recognized – something especially poignant when we come to the conclusion.
Of special note: *Spoilers ahead*
It’s worth mentioning that unfortunately, there is no happy ending for Ms. Bixby. We learn in the epilogue that she has passed on in the middle of a surgery, and her students hear the news from their principal.
There’s no way this is going to be an easy read for younger readers, but Anderson handles the sad – if not wholly unexpected – news with dignity and understanding. The trio approaches the passing with a love of their memories for their teacher, but also with an understanding that it’s now up to them to live their lives with the spirit and zest that she warmly shared with them.
Readers will likely have a lot of questions, and educators and parents have an opportunity to have a very candid conversation about love, respect, and illness.
All in all, this is a heartbreaking, beautiful tribute to a fictional teacher, but also to every teacher who has committed themselves as wholeheartedly and unreservedly as the brilliant Ms. Bixy. This is an absolutely worthy read. Cannot recommend highly enough.
About the author:
John David Anderson is the author of many books for young readers, including Sidekicked and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and a perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.