Ms. Bixby's Last Day
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.
The Perfect Middle Grade Read Aloud
Brand, Topher and Steve are enjoying their year in school because their teacher, Ms. Bixby, is one of "the good ones". She listens to her has her fair share of quirks, like working part time as a clown, having a pink streak in her hair, and spouting quotations. When the boys find out that Ms. Bixby is sick and has to finish the year early, they take some consolation in the fact that they can give her a good "last day". When her cancer treatment doesn't go well, and she ends up in the hospital, the three decide to skip school, gather the ingredients for a celebration, and make their way to the hospital to visit. They have manage to locate her favorite (very expensive) cheesecake, have quite the adventure getting a bottle of wine, and after several disaster, make it to the hospital. During the course of these events, we find out more about why Ms. Bixby was such an influential person in the boys lives, which are far from easy. They even manage to get Ms. Bixby out to a park, where they share their celebration.
The relationship between Ms. Bixby and each boy is slowly revealed. We find out that she is helping Brand through a very difficult time, and why she is so important to Steve and Topher. We also learn a lot about the interplay between the boys, and there are some altercations when they become frustrated with each other. Even briefly mentioned relationships ring true-- when they run into Steve's sister at a McDonald's, Steve deftly counters her threat to tell their overly involved parents with an equally effective threat about her own behavior. This encounter tells us volumes about the family dynamic and adds a layer of depth to the characters.
Anderson tugs at our heartstrings with this one, but he is also true to his own style by inserting guffaw-inducing descriptions of the cheesecake after it has spent time in a backpack, comic chase scenes, and even some terribly sophisticated booger humor. This makes it a perfect book not only for adults who are fond of reading books like Wonder, The One and Only Ivan and Almost Home that require boxes of tissues to be kept at the ready, but also for middle school readers who enjoy slapstick humor. Not many books manage to balance the two, but Ms. Bixby's Last Day does so artfully.
This is almost a reboot of A Begonia for Miss Applebaum, but without the creepy ending and with much better adventures. Yes, I cried buckets. But I laughed, too. THAT, my friends, is good literature!