Monday, June 20, 2016
It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.
I've made no secret of the fact that I loathe, abhor and detest sad books. I've had enough of them, as have my students, and I'm DONE. However, I also make it my aim to read every single middle grade fiction book released every year, since I read all of these books for the Cybils awards. There's no avoiding them.
SO! My new rule is this. If there have to be sad books (because language arts teachers seem to love them), they should only be written by authors whose other works include books about evil super villains and Dungeons and Dragons style adventures. That way, there's a good dose of humor to save me from feeling like I am "being beaten about the head with a tear soaked teddy bear."
Anderson, John David. Ms. Bixby's Last Day
June 21st 2016 by Walden Pond Press
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there
Brand, Topher and Steve are enjoying their year in school because their teacher, Ms. Bixby, is one of "the good ones". She listens to her has her fair share of quirks, like working part time as a clown, having a pink streak in her hair, and spouting quotations. When the boys find out that Ms. Bixby is sick and has to finish the year early, they take some consolation in the fact that they can give her a good "last day". When her cancer treatment doesn't go well, and she ends up in the hospital, the three decide to skip school, gather the ingredients for a celebration, and make their way to the hospital to visit. They have manage to locate her favorite (very expensive) cheesecake, have quite the adventure getting a bottle of wine, and after several disaster, make it to the hospital. During the course of these events, we find out more about why Ms. Bixby was such an influential person in the boys lives, which are far from easy. They even manage to get Ms. Bixby out to a park, where they share their celebration.
While this is a sad book which made me cry, it also has a healthy does of humor. Brand, Topher and Steve manage to get themselves involved in a lot of realistic trouble. When they skip school, they make sure that they call into the attendance office in a realistic way. When they try to buy a bottle of wine, they approach an older man to say that they are his nephews, and he then runs off with the money. Dangerous? Yes, but something I can see middle school students doing.
The relationship between Ms. Bixby and each boy is slowly revealed. We find out that she is helping Brand through a very difficult time, and why she is so important to Steve and Topher. We also learn a lot about the interplay between the boys, and there are some altercations when they become frustrated with each other. Even briefly mentioned relationships ring true-- when they run into Steve's sister at a McDonald's, Steve deftly counters her threat to tell their overly involved parents with an equally effective threat about her own behavior. This encounter tells us volumes about the family dynamic and adds a layer of depth to the characters.
Anderson tugs at our heartstrings with this one, but he is also true to his own style by inserting guffaw-inducing descriptions of the cheesecake after it has spent time in a backpack, comic chase scenes, and even some terribly sophisticated booger humor. This makes it a perfect book not only for adults who are fond of reading books like Wonder, The One and Only Ivan and Almost Home that require boxes of tissues to be kept at the ready, but also for middle school readers who enjoy slapstick humor. Not many books manage to balance the two, but Ms. Bixby's Last Day does so artfully.
This is almost a reboot of A Begonia for Miss Applebaum, but without the creepy ending and with much better adventures. Yes, I cried buckets. But I laughed, too. THAT, my friends, is good literature!
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Posted by Ms. Yingling at 6:00 AM