I have to give a big shout out to the guy at Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT who told me about the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award and pointed to the little note cards on the book shelves indicating this year’s nominees. That’s how I found the book Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson.
Let me preface this by saying I am having one of the worst teaching years of my career. No, I mean it, the worst. Just to give you an idea, last week my principal said to me “Well, at least we got through 163 days without anyone setting anything on fire.” Yeah, we had to restart that clock on day 164.
Anyway, this book revolves around the relationship 3 boys have with their 6th grade teacher, one of “The Good Ones.” And this year, I feel like I may never reach that coveted title and become one of the Good Ones myself, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to read the book. But, the cover art showing the three boys peaking through a little window, and the burning need to figure out what happened to Ms. Bixby and why this was her last day, along with the high praise by Vermont’s librarians pushed me to buy the book.
Now that I’ve wiped away the tears, I can tell you that I’m glad I bought it.
This book is an adventure story that tells what happens when three 6th graders skip school to go see their teacher in the hospital. Each chapter is told by one of the boys, so we slowly get their back story and find out why Ms. Bixby is important enough for them to spend their allowance and risk getting in trouble. There are times we think they won’t make it, like when Steve has to face the shark in the toilet at the bookstore or when George Nelson double crosses them and runs off with their money (you are going to have to read it yourself) but you kind of know all along that they will make it, it just won’t be quite what they expect.
I see several of my students in these boys. They come to school and I have only the most basic understanding of what they live with. They bring their anger and sadness and neediness with them and make themselves hard to love. But like Ms. Bixby, like just about every teacher I know, I do love them.
Teachers should read this book. Parents should read this book. And middle school kids should read this book, because John David Anderson captured our love and dysfunction in this story and we should always take time out to look at our lives.
What would you do with your last day?