Book Review: The Year of Billy Miller

Author: Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (September 17, 2013)
Independent Reading: Second and Third Grade
Read Aloud: First to Third Grade
Source: Purchased Copy
Fiction * Family * Humor * School

Description from GoodReads:
Award-winning, nationally bestselling author Kevin Henkes introduces second-grader Billy Miller in this fast-paced and funny story about friendship, sibling rivalry, and elementary school. The Year of Billy Miller includes black-and-white art by Kevin Henkes and is perfect for fans of the Ramona books, Frindle, by Andrew Clements, and the Clementine series.

When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad. Newbery Honor author and Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes delivers a short, satisfying, laugh-out-loud-funny school and family story that features a diorama homework assignment, a school poetry slam, cancelled sleepovers, and epic sibling temper tantrums. Illustrated throughout with black-and-white art by the author, this is a perfect short novel for the early elementary grades.

My thoughts on this book:
Every once in awhile you need to pick up a book that makes you feel good. I figured that I had read enough Kevin Henkes' books to safely know that this would be one with great characters, a fun story, and maybe even something a bit special.  The Year of Billy Miller was exactly what I was looking for and I am glad I picked it up to read.

What is different about The Year of Billy Miller is rather than be a story that fixates on Billy's issues at school with one classmate or how he struggles with homework or paying attention, readers get insights into the life of this second grader through his relationship with his teacher, father, sister, and mother.  Some readers may believe that there were lost opportunities.  However, I felt as if, Henkes was really doing a character sketch of this very energetic young boy.  He is a typical second grader.  He accidentally misunderstands when a classmate says that her nickname is "Emster" instead hears it as "hamster".  While playing around with two red markers, Billy is worried that maybe his new teacher thinks he is making fun of her and the red chopsticks she uses in her hair.  And when he should be working on his poetry, Billy gets distracted with a water fight, and building a volcano, and even covering his little sister in mud.  As I read through the story, I kept saying "Yes, he is a 2nd grade boy."
There are several things that I love about this book.  Henkes use of language is superb which makes this an ideal read aloud.  Readers will also identify with Billy, his younger sister Sal, and even his father. And where most books feature mom prominently and dad takes a more backseat role, this book is reverse. Dad is an artist who stays at home to work and take care of the kids.  It is his father that cooks during the week and makes fabulous cookies.  Mom, on the other hand, works as at teacher in a high school. And though it is the relationship that Billy has with his dad that you see the most, there are a few scenes with his mom towards the end of the book, which are very touching.

So, what do you do with a book that is clearly written for a particular age group but is also 240 pages?  First, there is a lot of white space and has large type.  It would be a perfect independent read for mid-year second to third grade.  It will also provide kids with that "thicker" book they want to carry around. Second, even more so, it would make a lovely read aloud.  I look forward to sharing this one with students.

Meet Kevin Henkes video by HarperCollins:

Look for The Year of Billy Miller at your public library or independent bookstore.