I recently had the pleasure of reading a really remarkable book, one that — at times — was difficult to get through (for largely personal reasons, which I’ll get into later) — but which was so rewarding and lovely and beautiful.
A love letter to the teachers who shape our youth and the childhood friendships that we never forget, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is a moving portrayal of one remarkable teacher and the students whose lives she changes.
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 want to 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 very 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.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is at times laugh-out-loud funny, and at other times utterly heartbreaking. Anderson has so elegantly captured the essence and magic of childhood friendships, and the life-changing impact a teacher can have on a student’s life. Ms. Bixby is one of those teachers, and through the eyes of these three boys, we see how she has touched them in different, meaningful ways. As the boys go on a quest to give Ms. Bixby the celebration she deserves, we see what they mean to each other, and what Ms. Bixby means to each of them.
The hijinks that ensue as the boys endeavor to deliver a very specific send-off for their teacher is the source of the book’s most outrageous, hilarious moments. It also acts as the framework for revealing each boy’s unique situation; their personal struggles, and the ways in which their teacher has helped change them for the better. We see why it is just so important for each of them to follow through on their plan.
Anderson beautifully demonstrates the ways Ms. Bixby has impacted each student; it’s a reminder about how special some teachers are, and about the educators who shaped each of us. Anyone whose life has ever been changed by a teacher (and isn’t that just about everybody?) will find something to relate to in this book. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is a tribute to of all the great teachers in the world.
If you don’t need a Kleenex by the time you’ve finished reading Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, well, then, your heart may be two sizes too small. The book is in stores now.
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A Personal Note:
Of course, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day isn’t just a touching, moving book with some funny moments. It’s also incredibly sad. If you hadn’t guessed from the synopsis, Ms. Bixby is forced to leave her students before the end of the school year for health reasons: she has cancer, and it’s pretty serious.
Reading about illness, especially cancer, is never particularly easy. Consider how many people in your own life have been affected by cancer? My dad is a cancer survivor; my grandfather passed away from cancer.
And shortly before I sat down to start reading Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, I learned that my sister-in-law’s best friend — a young woman I’ve only just gotten to know in the last three years — is dying. She’s 28 years old, facing cancer for the third time in her life. It’s in her brain, bones, liver, and lungs. Doctors say she probably only has six months left. I don’t know Kristen well; but I know that no 28-year-old should be facing cancer for a third time and told her life is over before it’s even had a chance to begin. And yet, Kristen’s attitude is admirable. If you read her posts on her GoFundMe page or on her blog, it’s inspiring. She is inspiring, and courageous and remarkable. I mean, talk about being given a lesson in perspective!
Anyway, I don’t mean to turn this review into a sob story or anything; but it’s simply impossible for me right now to separate my experience reading Ms. Bixby’s Last Day from Kristen’s story, given I had just recently learned about her diagnosis when I picked up the book. It made getting through the sadder parts of the book difficult, but no less worthwhile.