Tuesday, September 17, 2013
The Year of Billy Miller
Grades 3-7. Billy Miller is starting second grade, and though his teacher, Mrs. Silver, tells the class it is the Year of the Rabbit, Billy’s father tells him it will be the Year of Billy Miller. Billy isn’t sure. He’s even more worried when he gets off on the wrong foot his first day, but as the months go on, Billy begins to shine. There are some wonderful moments here: when Billy brings his teacher silver items—coins, a paper clip, a little rabbit—to show her he’s a nice boy; when he agonizes over how to tell his father that Papa is a babyish name; and a triumphant ending when poetry and self-confidence intertwine. But the school year also seems rushed, and some intriguing characters, like the annoying Emma, are barely touched. Harkening back to writers of an earlier era, like Eleanor Estes, Henkes never compromises his language. Words like replicated, diligently, and frustrated appear—and that’s on just one page. Since this is so age specific, older readers might pass it by. That would be too bad, because this is a story with a lot of heart and sweet insights into growing up. Illustrations unseen. High-Demand Backstory: There’s no more versatile producer of children’s books working today than Henkes. Libraries, with great justification, are always interested in what he’s up to now.