As John David Anderson says in the Acknowledgements: this is a quiet book. I have read other books by Anderson, but I totally agree. What a great book to end the summer! A book about one of the 'good ones'. Everyone who reads this will wish that they had Ms. Bixby as a teacher. Each of the main characters feels that she is so much more than a good teacher. She is encourages when students need it most, is quiet where there is nothing to say and she is magically there when they need it the most. The story is laced with poignant moments that show us Ms. Bixby's character; that she is much more than a fantastic educator that drops Bixbyisms almost on a daily basis.
"There is a long road yet," said Gandolf.
"But it is the last road," said Bilbo.
The theme of "The Hobbit" is especially poignant. Ms. Bixby leaves before she is finished reading her favourite novel. The class is left wondering if the substitute will finish and if he/she will be able to use the same voices for all the characters. Not likely. Being a teacher who loves reading aloud and loves certain novels, I felt great empathy for these students. So sad. But wait until the end. Your eyes WILL leak!
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be"
"You don't give up, Brand Walker. That's what makes you special. You need to show him that. Show him what it means to be strong. Teach him how to not give up."
Brand talks about Steve being brilliant and Topher being a talented artist. He doesn't feel like he has anything special to offer. Ms. Bixby helps him see his own special talents.
And finally, I don't think I'll ever turn my nose down at a carnation again, "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 - they give up and die before you can even get used to them being around"
I like that Anderson builds on the plot. We know very little at the beginning, just that Bixby is a favourite teacher who is unable to finish the school year because of a very serious illness. Through the 3 narrators, Steve, Topher and Brand, we learn the details of the illness and how this teacher had touched the lives of these boys. Especially touching is Brand's relationship with Ms. Bixby. His father is disabled and Brand is left to care for himself and take care of the household due to his Dad's accident and depression. The boys, led by Brand set off on an adventurous day to make Ms. Bixby's dream 'last day' come true. Chaos ensues. It reads like a film. I can totally imagine this becoming a movie in the future.
I would use this novel as a read aloud at the beginning or end of the year and have students do readers responses. I would ask students to write about how they would spend their last day.