Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ms Bixby's last day by John David Anderson

"The truth is - the whole truth is - that it's not the last day that matters most. It's the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on. They're carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest."

I have wanted to read this book ever since I saw the cover on a blog site last year.  I was not disappointed - this is another one of those books that I read right through in one sitting.  Yes it is that good but it does require a little concentration.

The story is told using three alternating voices. Each chapter is told by the boys who take turns to fill in the story events so it is important to read the chapter headings so you know which boy is the narrator. In each chapter the boys slowly reveal their relationship with their very special teacher Ms Bixby, the difficulties of their personal lives and also the importance of their relationships with each other.

A few weeks back the teacher had asked the students to describe their last day - on earth.  The students begin to talk but then one student asks Ms Bixby about her last day.  As it turns out this is quite prophetic as her last day is actually coming.  When Ms Bixby announces she has to go into hospital every one is devastated.  Tropher explains there are in fact six kinds of teachers.  I won't define them here for you but you may be able to guess what some are like.  Zombies, Caff-Adds, Dungeon Masters, Spielbergs, Noobs and "the last kind we simply call the Good Ones." Ms Bixby is one of the Good Ones.

Three of her students - Tropher (Christopher), Steve and Brand - decide to create Ms Bixby's last day on earth.  I cannot tell you everything here because it will spoil the story but there is some mention of cheesecake and after reading about this you may just want to go out a buy one and share it with your own favourite teacher.

I liked the way each boy has a reason to feel close to Ms Bixby and I imagine every student in her class would also have this connection.  I also liked the way each story is revealed slowly keeping you on your toes as you piece together the three back stories.  Ms Bixby herself is also an inspiration from her pink hair to her little daily sayings - Bixbyisms.  As for those carnations :

"Carnations get a bad rap, she said, because they are cheaper than roses, but she liked them better because they fight harder. Roses are quitters ... "

At its heart this is a book about kindness and that is a message I truly appreciate.  Take a look here at the author web site.  Ms Yingling, my blogging hero who does not like sad books,  also gives this book a glowing review.

Here is a little video promotion from the publisher and some excellent teaching ideas.  Here is a teacher made trailer.  Here is an audio interview with the author.  It is a long interview but worth spending time listening to the way the author developed this story but do this after you have read this book.

I would follow Ms Bixy's Last day with Because of Mr Terupt and if you like the structure of alternating voices take a look at Trash.  If you don't mind shedding a few tears you could also take a look at The Year Mrs Montague cried.

Sad and satisfying in just the right amounts.  Kirkus

But it is also a powerful journey of revelation, as each boy is able to offer up, like a blessing, the ways in which Ms. Bixby has brought hope and wholeness into the dark.   New York Times

VERDICT This story provides a full-spectrum, emotionally satisfying experience that will have readers laughing, crying, and everything in between. As Topher would say, this is one frawesome (freaking awesome) book. School Library Journal

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