Author Archives: Amie Borst

Super Gear and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day WINNERS!

Congratulations to Mia Wenjen! You’ve won a copy of SUPER GEAR by Jen Swanson!

Congratulations to Greg Pattridge! You’ve won a copy of MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY by John David Anderson!

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Thanks so much for supporting middle-grade books and all of us here at The Mixed-Up Files!

John David Anderson’s Ms. Bixby’s Last Day

I had the pleasure of meeting John David Anderson in Washington state this past March. We were part of a group event of seventeen authors presenting to over 900 students at Columbia Basin College for the Cavalcade of Authors.

John David and I chatted at a group dinner one night and when he mentioned Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, I knew I had to read it and share it will all of you here at The Mixed-Up Files. Shortly after my return from Washington, a copy of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day was in my mailbox and I devoured this heartfelt story in a short matter of time. Don’t make the same mistake I did though – make sure you have a box of tissues handy.



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.

“A smart, funny, and ultimately moving novel.” Booklist, Starred Review

Amie: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files! It’s great to have you here. My daughter is a huge fan of your book, Sidekicked, and to say I loved Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is an understatement. What was your inspiration for Ms. Bixby’s Last Day? How is it different (or the same) than your previously published books?

John David: My wife is a teacher. My mother’s a teacher. I spent seven years teaching. My kids have teachers. Teachers are, like, everywhere. Though to be honest, Bixby started out more as narrative challenge than a tribute to educators. Ms. Bixby began more as catalyst than character, a way for me to explore the dynamic between the three protagonists. But as the novel evolved (meaning, as I wrote and revised the darn thing), I realized the profound impact she had on each of their lives and she became the hero of sorts.

In many ways Bixby is a departure from my other work. There are no superheroes, dungeons or swords. Nothing explodes (except tempers). It’s probably as realistic a novel as I’m bound to put out (minus the shark in the toilet). At the same time, I see it as a continuation of many of the themes I’ve explored in other novels. Kids coming of age, navigating the complex and often heartbreaking adult world, learning that their role models are fallible. Realizing that, even at a young age, they can have an impact. Plus it’s funny. Parts of it still make me laugh out loud—and I know the punchlines going in.

Amie:  Ms. Bixby is absolutely a hero. And the shark in the toilet. He’s not a hero, but yeah. I know what you’re saying about laugh out loud! What was your favorite – or your worst – part about writing a story with three points of view? Of your three main characters, Topher, Brand, and Steve who was your favorite to write? Which  was the most difficult and why?

John David: I enjoy writing in first person precisely because it gives me more opportunity to explore narrative voice in detail. And three narrators just means triple the exploration—so much potential for creativity. Of course all of my narrators inevitably sound like me a little bit (they have my sense of humor, I think), so the biggest challenge was differentiation. In that respect, Steve was the easiest and hardest—his voice seems the most unique to me, so I enjoyed drafting his chapters as an imaginative exercise, but it’s also the one that required the most revision and fine-tuning because it didn’t come as naturally.

I’m not sure I have a favorite. Brand carried the story for me—I think his voice was always the one telling me what should happen next. I’d wake up in the morning and Steve and Topher would be yapping at each other about whatever, but Brand kept me on task, reminded me that there was important stuff to deal with. That said, Topher hews closest to how I was when I was young—little kid, big imagination, hoping to get noticed.

Amie:  I definitely understand the yapping characters. Why must they do that? All right, now this question is really important. White chocolate raspberry cheesecake or McDonald’s french fries?

John David: Heart attack or even quicker heart attack? Gah, they are both so good. Ask me at age 12 and it’s the french fries, no contest, with some fries on the side. But in adulthood I’ve cultivated more of the sweet-craving tastebuds, so I’m going to go cheesecake. Plus it has raspberries. That makes it healthy.

Amie: I’m glad I don’t have to choose! Serve me both, please! Last question. In Ms. Bixby’s Last Day the boys try to give their teacher her last day.  How would you spend your last day?

John David: I’d spend most of it with family and friends. There would definitely be binge eating (so much chocolate). And none of it would be good for me. And I would want to spend the day out in nature. In the woods. By the ocean. Somewhere where I could marvel at the wonder of the indifferent-but-still-amazing universe. I would have everyone come with a line from their favorite book or movie or play. Something witty or reflective or profound to read out loud. Or maybe just a joke to bust my gut. I would want to laugh. Laughter makes everything go down easier.

At some point, though, I would have to excuse myself and go write something. A letter. An epitaph. A dirty limerick. Just so I could say that I got the last word.

Amie: Sounds like a wonderful last day to me. The only thing I’d add to it is music. There must be great music. Thanks for joining us at The Mixed-Up Files, David!

john david anderson author photo

John David Anderson is the author of Sidekicked, Minion, Standard Hero Behavior, The Dungeoneers and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. He lives with his patient wife and brilliant twins in Indianapolis, Indiana, right next to a State park and a Walmart. He refuses to wear neckties but will wear sandals in the snow. He enjoys hiking, reading, chocolate, spending time with his family, playing the piano, chocolate, making board games, chocolate, superhero movies, singing badly, and chocolate. He spends at least three minutes a day trying to move objects with his mind.


I can’t say enough good things about Ms. Bixby’s Last Day or how John David manages to make a serious topic entertaining. This book should be required reading for every teacher, student, and parent. So, if you’d like a copy for yourself or know a teacher who’d love to add it to their classroom library be sure to enter the giveaway below. You might just be our lucky winner!

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Amie Borst is the author of Cinderskella, Little Dead Riding Hood, and the forthcoming, Snow Fright. All three books are part of her middle-grade fairytale retelling series, Scarily Ever Laughter.

Super Gear Giveaway!

Today we have The Mixed-Up Files very own Jennifer Swanson here for an interview and giveaway! Her latest non-fiction book, SUPER GEAR, just released and we’re both super excited to share it with you!

SUPER GEAR is one of the 12 books on the International Literacy Association “Jump Start Your Summer” reading selections:

“This reader-friendly introduction to nanotechnology breaks down the science and describes the processes of nanomanufacturing in a clear and understandable way. Packed with photographs, diagrams, and text boxes, this book will appeal to athletes and sports enthusiasts—and the curious. – Literacy Worldwide


Cutting-edge science; high-performance sports
How are the sports played by Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, Michelle Wie, and Usain Bolt related? Nanotechnology! Take a close-up look at sports and nanotechnology, the cutting-edge science that manipulates objects at the atomic level. Nanotechnology is used to create high-tech swimsuits, tennis rackets, golf clubs, running shoes, and more.

Back matter includes a glossary, bibliography, list of resources, and index. Perfect for 2016 Summer Olympics displays and celebrations.
Amazon Barnes & Noble IndieBound

Amie: Tell me about your publishing journey and how it started with non-fiction. How long have you been writing non-fiction? What inspired you to take this path?

Jen: I got my first contract to write nonfiction books for kids six years ago. My path is pretty interesting, when I look back on it. I didn’t start out wanting to write science books for kids, at first I wanted to write fiction picture books. Very quickly, I realized that I did not have the talent to do that. A wonderful writer, Elaine Landau suggested that I try science books. After all, I have two degrees in science and am a middle school science teacher. So, I did. It’s been wonderful. I get to write about the things I love and hopefully inspire kids to have the same passion for all things STEM that I do.

And now, 25+ books, myriad of e-books, articles, and conferences later here I am.

Amie: *blinks* TWENTY FIVE BOOKS? Wow! That’s remarkable! Tell me about your inspiration. Does it come in the same or different ways than for fiction? What would you suggest to anyone interested in writing non-fiction?

Jen: Absolutely! Some people think that writing nonfiction is easier than writing fiction and more limiting. I don’t find any of that to be true. Nonfiction kidlit these days is just as creative and thrilling as fiction. Good nonfiction uses lively writing, big, intriguing hooks, great storylines, and engages and excites the reader. I get my inspiration by reading everything I can, newspapers, articles, books, watching TV, and just listening to people talk. That’s the same way most fiction readers get their inspiration.

If you are interested in writing nonfiction, I would suggest opening your mind to inquiry. Ask lots of questions about topics that interest you or others. Investigate things you don’t understand. Most times, you’ll discover that one “gem” that makes you say. “Hmmm… I didn’t know that.” That’s the beginning of your book.

Amie:It’s amazing where we can find inspiration. Speaking of inspiration, where did you get the idea for SUPER GEAR?

Jen: I knew I wanted to write a book about nanotechnology. After all, it’s in practically everything we do and use in our daily lives. But I needed a big hook. One that would capture the attention of a trade publisher. In my house, sports has always been important. As a kid, I grew up in a family with 3 brothers, all of whom loved sports. It was always on the T.V.  Then, when I watched the 2008 Olympics and saw the controversy over the full-body swimsuits, I thought… “There’s something there…” I kept working on the idea until we were watching Disney’s The Incredibles movie. In the movie, Iceman walks around saying, “Where is my super suit?”  And voila the idea stuck. Thus SUPER GEAR was born.  It’s funny when you finally get ideas that work. (Of course, it took me four years to get it ).

Amie:  Fascinating! Sparks of ideas are all around us.  So now we know about your inspiration and where you find it, but why did you decided to write these non-fiction books for the middle grade audience?

Jen:  I think middle grade is the time when kids are really excited about science. If you tap into their enthusiasm and natural inquiry with great books filled with awesome science and engineering, then you can hook them for life. These are the kids that will grow up to become the scientists and engineers that change the world.

Amie: That’s so true. It’s a great time to mold, shape, and inspire these growing minds. One last question. Airplanes or submarines? Spaghetti and meatballs or tacos? Strawberries and cream or peanut butter fudge?

Jen: Airplanes. Submarines are too close quarters.Tacos. Definitely. I could eat Mexican food every night. Strawberries and cream. Strawberry shortcake is my favorite dessert.

Amie: bzzzzt! The correct answer was alien. Thanks for joining us here, Jen and congrats on the release of Super Gear!

Jen: Thanks so much, Amie!

Jennifer Swanson Author Photo

Science Rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award winning author of over 25 nonfiction books for children. Her books in the “How Things Work” series by The Child’s World were named to the 2012 Booklist’s Top 10 Books for Youth. Top reviews include a starred review in Booklist, and recommended reviews from School Librarians Workshop, Library Media Connection, the NSTA and a book in a series that was a JLG Selection. Jennifer’s passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge). You can visit Jennifer at her website on Facebook or Twitter

If you’d like your very own copy of SUPER GEAR by Jennifer Swanson, all you have to do is enter the giveaway below! You might be our lucky winner!

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Amie Borst is the author of the Cinderskella, Little Dead Riding Hood, and the forthcoming Snow Fright! All three books are part of the Scarily Ever Laughter series.