Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Year of Billy Miller

My rising second grader and I recently finished reading the Newbery Honor title, The Year of Billy Miller, together. I was thrilled when I first heard about Billy's story. The early chapter book genre is in dire need of some fresh lovely works and Billy Miller fills that void nicely. Aside from the classic Ramona series, there really aren't many beautifully written books for the not-yet-middle-grade chapter book readers, at least not that are written about them. Henkes captures the 7-year-old boy's thoughts, motivations, and fears perfectly. Billy Miller reminded me so much of some combination of my own boys, and his story features charming language covering the simple, yet complex, challenges of every day life.

Billy Miller visits the Jolly Green Giant on vacation prior to starting second grade. He falls over a guardrail, and although he's not seriously injured, he does develop a lump on his head, a lump that is still visible at the beginning of school. After overhearing his parents discussing his injury, Billy worries that he might not be smart enough for second grade. His dad reassures him that this is "The Year of Billy Miller". Throughout the story, Billy feels misunderstood by his teachers, worries about his father's success as an artist, is alternately annoyed and comforted by his little sister, dislikes to his classmate, builds a bat diorama for school, and writes about his mother for the second grade poetry slam. 

Each part of the year is broken into the sections Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother. My own almost-second grader particularly connected to the Sister section. He sighed and declared it his favorite when we finished. Henkes writing is beautiful descriptive, such as when Billy first spots Grace Cotter in his class:
Grace Cotter slipped into her chair. Billy had known Grace since kindergarten. She was so shy she seemed almost invisible. Like vacuums, her wide eyes were sucking in everything.
Although The Year of Billy Miller is a stand-alone novel, I found myself wishing at the end that Billy's story would continue. His family became so familiar that Henkes could easily write a follow-up novel in a year or two.

You can find The Year of Billy Miller in the Early Elementary Read Alouds section of The Book Children Store.