Sunday, March 2, 2014

Reading: The Year of Billy Miller


Courtesy of www.kevinhenkes.com
Recently awarded a Newbery Honor, The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes has been a must-read on my list, as I have always loved the mouse stories and picture books written by Kevin since I was an elementary student.  The Year of Billy Miller is a well-written story about Billy Miller and his year in second grade.  Interestingly, most second-graders would probably be able to relate to the adventures he has throughout the book.  Billy's year is composed of moments, and I appreciate how Kevin takes these simple moments and turns them into chapters; it's the little moments of my own childhood that I look upon so fondly, and I feel that Kevin is enveloping Billy's special moments so he can open them at a later time and be happy to remember. 


The Year of Billy Miller is told in four parts: Teacher, Father, Sister, and Mother.  In each quarter, Kevin writes about a special bond that Billy develops with each person.  At the beginning of second grade, Billy worries that he has accidentally offended his teacher and decides to do something special for her so that she will know he's really a "nice kid."  In the early fall, Billy's father helps him and his best friend, Ned, build dioramas for science class, and Billy influences his father to create something new from found-objects, since his father is a struggling artist.  During the winter, Billy pledges to stay awake all night long and can't do it without the help of his sister, whom he realizes he really does love after all.  And at the end of the school year, Billy decides to honor his mother with a poem at the end-of-the-year assembly and is determined to memorize it, unlike the other children in his class. Each section includes a small problem and solution, as Billy grows in his own character and develops a closer bond with his family.  Throughout the book, Billy mentions a girl named Emily that he has to sit by in second grade, and this is the only problem in the book that is not resolved.  I almost wonder if Kevin is planning a series about Billy? 

Billy does not do anything to make him a stand-our hero, but he stays true to himself and tries to navigate second grade as best as he can.  Because of his relatability, children will love  reading about Billy.  The book itself has over 200 pages, but it is double-spaced and includes small illustrations by Kevin throughout the book.  It is a manageable read for second and third graders, and they are sure to feel triumphant after completing such a lengthy book.  The Year of Billy Miller is also a wonderfully-written book with some challenging vocabulary and a variety of rich synonyms.  For example, when Billy's mama takes a bite of his papa's toast, the author writes, "Mama rushed about the kitchen, stealing a bite of Papa's toast and a gulp of his coffee."  If I were to use this novel in my classroom as a read-aloud, I would certainly discuss the strong writing exhibited by Kevin, which is evident in all of his books.  

The Year of Billy Miller is an excellent novel for young readers and may make an excellent first chapter book that also represents solid writing.  A series of this book would certainly enlighten young readers, book after book, particularly boys.  For more information about this book, including more reviews and a teaching guide, visit Billy's official website! 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing! I've been wanting to read this book, especially because the main character is a second grader and I think my students could relate to him (I have a class of nearly all boys!) I found a great teacher's guide with discussion questions on the website you linked to- I'm hoping to use this book as a read aloud for the end of the year so my students can reflect on their time in second grade.

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