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Friday, September 23, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day, written by John David Anderson. Walden Pond Press, Harper. 2016. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"The man who emerges from behind the bookcase looks like Yoda ... if Yoda were a nearsighted, five-foot-tall white man in khaki pants and a frumpy gray sweater. Pointy ears jut out of a melonish head, topped with little wisps of white hair tufting out like pulled cotton. And he's got Yoda wrinkles too, the kind that come in waves crashing down to his eyebrows. He has a haunted expression on his face ... "

Ms. Bixby is one of the 'good ones' - a teacher who 'gets' her kids and makes school a worthwhile place to be. For Topher, Steve, and Brand she is more than that. Each has his own reasons for her being someone special. She knows them. That is not always an easy task when working with sixth graders. Their days at school are purposeful because Ms. Bixby is there. She mentors them with her passionate attention to the world, praises her students for being courageous, and encourages them to be astounded by all that is lovely.

"The last kind we simply call the Good Ones. The ones who make the torture otherwise known as school somewhat bearable. You know when you have one of the Good Ones because you find yourself actually paying attention in class, even if it's not art class. They're the teachers you actually want to go back to say hi to the next year. The ones you don't want to disappoint."

So, when she has to break the news that she has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and won't be able to finish the school year because she has to begin treatment, the boys are floored. Then, when she is admitted to hospital ahead of her anticipated  'last day' with them, they feel cheated. Determined to spend that 'last day' with her, they set out on a journey that tests their resolve and strengthens their friendship. All they want to do is take Ms. Bixby to the park across the street from the hospital. All they need is an expensive cheesecake, a bottle of wine and a big bag of McDonald's french fries (her favorites) and a copy of "The Hobbit" so they can share the final 20 pages (which she wasn't able to finish).

Told in three alternating voices, we learn each boy's story and witness their growth as they embark together on a not totally successful mission. Their voices are authentic, funny, sad, and moving. They prove they are better people for having met this very special teacher: they work together with courage and hope. What power a teacher, who is mentor and friend, can have on the lives of her students!  You want to know these remarkable boys and their story!

""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 to look back on. They're the carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest."

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