By Elizabeth Wroten
Kidlit Review: The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
On 25, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: 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. This is a perfect short novel for the early elementary grades.
I need to get two things off my chest with this book.
One, it has been likened to Frindle and the Clementine series. I have not read either of these. In fact I haven’t read a whole lot of those transitional chapter books. Mostly because prior to this I have found them incredibly boring. I have read a total of two Magic Treehouse books and I wish I hadn’t. But I also know that these books are wonderful for hooking readers, building confidence and building fluency. I can’t compare or even make too many read alike suggestions. I can say second graders, especially ones for whom reading is starting to take off will probably like this book. It’s easy but long enough to make them feel important for reading a chapter book.
Second, I just really wanted Billy to slap that little girl Emma Sparks. She is such a self-important braggart. Of course, I’m sure there’s a backstory for why she is such a brat, but my visceral reaction was to want him to slap her. Just to be clear, I don’t condone slapping children. Obviously. She is a book character so I felt okay having that reaction.
This was a family and friends book. Not much action here. I loved the approach of looking at Billy’s year through the lens of his different family members. Billy’s voice, worries, and actions felt very much like a second grader. The secondary characters in the book were not very well fleshed out, but I think for the target audience that wouldn’t matter. I also think it fits well with the second grade world view. They aren’t nearly as self centered as they were at two or three, but eight-year-olds are still fairly self absorbed. (Totally developmentally appropriately, I think.)
One content warning: At one point Billy wants to stay up all night and when he is feeling sleepy he tries to keep himself awake by imagining something scary and horrible. It ends up being some kind of rotting corpse or monster or something. I’m a big chicken and it kinda freaked me out, so if you have a kid who is easily frightened skip that bit.
All in all, an enjoyable story about a boy.