Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Good Ones---Ms. Bixby's Last Day Blog Tour

Decades after elementary, middle, junior high and high school they are firmly affixed in our memories as if we just left their classroom only days ago.  They are the teachers who don't teach subjects but children.  These teachers create an aura of close community, family, in the space you will share with them for the next nine months.  Their goal, always, is to help you discover your best self.

I consider myself one of the fortunate ones.  Most of my teachers were wonderful.  I can still picture all of them in my mind noting memorable things about each of them.  The special educator who will continue to be the one who most inspired my life is my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Urquhart.  Before we had the polio vaccine, she contracted the disease.  She moved around using a wheel chair and special crutches.  While visually we were aware of her limitations, it never interfered with her ability to teach.

During the early sixties when President John K. Kennedy was in office, there was a huge push for physical fitness.  I can vividly recall Mrs. Urquhart playing the Chicken Fat song sung by Robert Preston every single morning.  Years later when I was assigned to teach physical education at the elementary level in addition to being the teacher librarian, I located a copy of the song to play at the beginning of our gym classes.  The students groaned but loved it.  We all loved it.  Mrs. Urquhart was there in spirit cheering us on as she often did a group of fifth grade students in the 60s.

I am sure during the course of the year Mrs. Urquhart read many stories and books to us, but the ones I remember the most were those of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.  She didn't just read us these stories, the stories became a part of our classroom.  We studied the characters in depth creating life sized images which were placed on all four walls.  We learned about the cultures from which these stories arose.  I could almost hear her voice when I needed a push to attend storytelling school in Jonesborough, Tennessee for two summers.  I taught storytelling for more than twenty years with my students.  To this day whenever I visit a community I locate their public library browsing through the 398.2 section hunting for new stories to tell.  If I could have another last day with Mrs. Urquhart, I would tell her how much I love her.  I would tell her she is one of my life's heroes.

After spending a day reading and rereading portions of John David Anderson's newest title I know this man experienced one of these special people in his life.  In Ms. Bixby's Last Day (Walden Pond Press, June 21, 2016) we come to know Ms. Bixby and three significant students in her sixth grade classroom becoming intimately involved in their lives.  Quite simply we don't want this story to end...ever.


With this opening statement Topher, short for Christopher, introduces us to his two friends, Steve, a brilliant boy with a photographic memory and a love of statistics and numbers and Brand, a creative wordsmith and a young man who stands fast no matter what happens and Ms. Bixby.  It is here we read the first of many Bixbyims.

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be," she adds.

We also conclude this first chapter with a sense of sadness.  We know bad news is coming.  Ms. Bixby delivers it three short weeks later.  She has been diagnosed with ductal adenocarcinoma.

In the alternating voices of Topher, Steve and Brand, chapter by chapter, a story of the present day is intertwined with past episodes.  To start, all the plans for a party on the scheduled last day for Ms. Bixby are cast aside when the school principal announces she has had to leave five days early.  This calls for action by the trio of boys.  They devise a plan during recess which, by the way, is written in ink from a stolen pen on Brand's arm.

Of course, life being what it is, obstacles pop up immediately.  They cannot complete their quest on a Saturday but must skip a day of school.  Every step of their plan is continually revised from one moment to the next, sometimes leaving readers hardly able to breath at what might happen but nevertheless turning pages as rapidly as possible.  Each boy outside of the grand scheme has a very specific reason for needing to see Ms. Bixby again.  Sometimes it seems as if everything has gone wrong but ultimately everything is better than expected because it's with Ms. Bixby.  Their year's journey with her and this day's adventure to be with her changes everything for Topher, Steve and Brand.  It will change you too.

John David Anderson had my attention from the first line.  With every single sentence I found myself more and more attached to these three boys and their teacher, Ms. Bixby.  Their conversations and thoughts are very realistic; to the point you believe these boys are flesh and blood people.  And yes, there are Ms. Bixby's in our schools.  There aren't as many as there should be but thankfully they are there guiding children and hopefully mentoring other educators.  Ms. Bixby's interactions with her students are professional but personal.  She sees into the hearts of her students as individuals knowing what to do and say and when her presence is needed.

You will chuckle and nod knowingly at Topher's description and attributes of teacher categories, Zombies, Caff-Adds, Dungeon Masters, Spielbergs, Noobs and The Good Ones. You will feel your heart swell when she places a ribbon earned by Steve on the board for a day, honoring him more than his A-or-nothing parents do.  You will cheer at the bravado of Brand in confronting a teacher who attempts to thwart their plans.  Every single incident plays out like the best kind of movie with its setting, time of day and dialogue.  Here are some sample passages.

"If we could pull it off," Steve repeated, then sighed before saying, "But you're right about one thing.  You couldn't possibly do it without me."

Brand looked back up. "So you're in?"

Steve nodded reluctantly.  I smiled.  Brand started rubbing his hands together, super-villain-like. "But only if you can promise that we won't get into any trouble." Steve countered.

I gave him my Indiana Jones smile.  "When have we ever gotten you into trouble?"

"Three days ago," he replied.  "And twice last week."

"I swear I thought Mrs. Samuelson's dog had an Invisible Fence," I said, remembering the three of us running like mad down the street, that wannabe-ferocious little schnauzer yapping at our heels, threatening to chew Steve's shoes off his feet.

Constants are called that for a reason.  You can take them for granted.  Like sunrises or breathing or the hissing sound a can of Coke makes when you open it.  Like the quote your teacher puts on the board every morning.
Or your best friend saving your seat on the bus.

The door swings shut behind us, no chimes or ringing bells to give us away.  Topher call out a "Hello?"  There's no answer.  "Bizarre," he says.

"Yeah," I say.

"And creepy," Topher adds.

"That too."

"You ever been here before?"

I shake my head.  "Didn't even know the place existed."

Topher inches a little closer to me.  I can't imagine what he's thinking.  His imagination must be in overdrive.  "Reminds me of the bookstore from The Neverending Story," he says.

"Never read it," I say.

"That's all right.  It's practically impossible to finish anyway."
Any other time I'd laugh, if I wasn't feeling so weirded out.  We stand by the door, none of us wanting to take a further step inside.  There aren't enough lights---at least a third of the bulbs are burned out---and that makes for a lot of shadows on the walls.  I get a chill, and it seems to be contagious because Topher and Steve shiver too.  Then, just as I'm about to suggest turning around, heading back and waiting at the bus stop, Steve sneezes so hard he get a blob of snot in the crook of his elbow.  A huge yellow glob quivering there like Jell-O.  I think about the time I picked his nose.  This is way grosser.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day written by John David Anderson is one of the finest middle grade titles of 2016.  It will resonate with all readers but will find a permanent place in the minds of middle grade readers.  I imagine it being passed from individual to individual and never being on the shelf all year long.

John David Anderson is a guest at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read. Here he completes John's sentences talking about this book and writing for Walden Pond Press.

Here is a link to a forty-six page excerpt from the book.

Here is another link to a video and additional resources for this book.

To learn more about John David Anderson and his work read:

John David Anderson

Author Bio:
John David Anderson is the author of many books for young readers, includingSidekicked and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.

ISBN: 9780062338174
ISBN 10: 006233817X
On Sale: 06/21/2016
John David Anderson, author of Sidekicked and The Dungeoneers, returns with a funny, heartwarming, and heartbreaking contemporary story about three boys, one teacher, and a day none of them will ever forget.
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 Dungeoneers
ISBN: 9780062338143
ISBN 10: 0062338145
On Sale: 06/23/2015
An action-packed, funny, and unexpected middle grade fantasy-adventure from the acclaimed author of Sidekicked.
The world is not a fair place, and Colm Candorly knows it. While his parents and eight sisters seem content living on a lowly cobbler's earnings, Colm can't help but feel that everyone has the right to a more comfortable life. It's just a question of how far you're willing to go to get it.
In an effort to help make ends meet, Colm uses his natural gift for pickpocketing to pilfer a pile of gold from the richer residents of town, but his actions place him at the mercy of a mysterious man named Finn Argos, a gilded-toothed, smooth-tongued rogue who gives Colm a choice: he can be punished for his thievery or he can become a member of Thwodin's Legions, a guild of dungeoneers who take what they want and live as they will. Colm soon finds himself part of a family of warriors, mages, and hunters, learning to work together in a quest to survive and, perhaps, to find a bit of treasure along the way.

ISBN: 9780062133113
ISBN 10: 006213311X
On Sale: 06/24/2014
John David Anderson returns to the world of superheroes he created in Sidekicked with an entirely new cast of characters in Minion, a funny and emotional companion to his first breakout tween novel—perfect for superhero fans who also love the work of bestselling authors Rick Riordan, Louis Sachar, and Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Michael Morn might be a villain, but he's really not a bad guy. When you live in New Liberty, there are no Supers and only two kinds of people: those who turn to crime and those who suffer. Michael and his adoptive father spend their days building boxes—special devices with mysterious abilities—that they sell to the mob at a price. They provide for each other, they look out for each other, and they'd never betray each other.
But then a Super comes to town, and Michael's world is thrown into disarray. The Comet could destroy everything Michael and his dad have built, the safe and secure life they've made for themselves. And now Michael and his father face a choice: to hold tight to their life or to let it unravel.

ISBN: 9780062133144
ISBN 10: 0062133144
On Sale: 06/25/2013
The Avengers meets Louis Sachar in this hilarious and action-packed tween novel by John David Anderson, which Publishers Weekly called a "superhero story that any comics fan will enjoy" in a starred review.
Andrew Bean might be a part of H.E.R.O., a secret organization for the training of superhero sidekicks, but that doesn't mean that life is all leaping tall buildings in single bounds. First, there's Drew's power: Possessed of super senses—his hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell are the most powerful on the planet—he's literally the most sensitive kid in school. Then there's his superhero mentor, a former legend who now spends more time straddling barstools than fighting crime. Add in trying to keep his sidekick life a secret from everyone, including his parents, and the truth is clear: Middle school is a drag even with superpowers.

But this is all before a supervillain long thought dead returns to the city of Justicia, superheroes begin disappearing at an alarming rate, and Drew's two identities threaten to crash head-on into each other. Drew has always found it pretty easy to separate right from wrong, good from evil. It's what a superhero does. But what happens when that line starts to disappear?



  1. It sounds like a very touching book, Margie! I'll put it on our library's suggest-a-title program since they don't yet have it in their collection.

    My favorite teacher was my 5th grade teacher too--Miss Mellion! She was straight out of college, young and an artist. She was a vegetarian (and probably was an influence in me becoming one, though a bit later at 16 instead of 10), and I loved her Artist of the Month program, where we were exposed to a variety of artists with different styles. She was one of a kind!! I recently tried to get in touch with her again, but have not had luck :(

    Thanks for sharing this!!

    1. It is a most moving story, Maria. The relationship this woman had with her students was particularly good, especially with those three boys. She did what all good teachers do; look at students as individuals.

      Your fifth grade teacher sounds amazing. The Artist of the Month program should be something done in all classroom especially with budget cuts and even in conjunction with art programs in schools.

      I hope you can find her, Maria.
      You are welcome.

  2. Just read this over the weekend & loved it!! I laughed, and I cried and I wished my daughter had a teacher just like Ms. Bixby!! :)

    1. I am glad to know you enjoyed it as much as I did Maria. I was fortunate to meet John at NerdCamp. He is as nice as you would imagine him to be. What she inspired in those three boys is wonderful.