Anderson's first novel opens and closes in a day, as Becky and her four classmates are about to graduate from sixth grade in the last one-room schoolhouse in the county. There is something mysterious--possibly dangerous--about their upcoming graduation ritual, and no one will talk about it, although almost everyone in town has been through it, and somehow altered by it. As the children (and readers) gradually realize that the ritual involves transformation into an animal and, for a time, joining the animal world, wonder and terror begin to converge. There are allusions to a graduation ceremony that went wrong 25 years before; the teacher, Miss Clough, appears too old and ill to prevent a repeat of the tragedy. Anderson builds suspense in this involving tale of an exceptional teacher's last lesson. But Miss Clough is not omnipotent, and the children face twin dangers: the unpredictable natural realm (the boy who becomes a snake almost preys upon the one who has become a frog) and their own pre-adolescent volatility (one girl decides to remain a bird). Power and poetry, mystery and magic move the children through the gate and into a new world--a graduation in myriad ways.