Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books

Rating: 3.5 stars

Billy Miller finds himself at the end of summer vacation, about to start second grade when he suddenly realizes that he might not be smart enough for second grade. The worrying creeps into his mind and he just can't shake it.

He starts second grade anyway--as if he has a choice!--and throughout the book he has small, second-grade-sized challenges that he worries about then overcomes, and Billy realizes that everything turns out okay in the end, and sometimes it turns out even better than okay.

Billy finishes the book at the very end of second grade just a little more confident and a little more capable than when he started.

I solidly liked this book, but Lorelei solidly loves it. She's read it a few times and recommended it to several of her friends. She read it the summer before her second grade, which I think is the perfect time to read The Year of Billy Miller, especially if that second grader has some (normal!) frets about school. There's nothing objectionable in this book and Billy has a yesteryear quality about him--he's a rule-following kid, a sweet big brother without a bit of sarcasm or eye-roll in his body. 

My favorite aspect of the book is the fact that there is no huge problem Billy needs to overcome. His parents don't fight or go through a divorce, no family member or friend dies, he doesn't lose his favorite pet. Billy's challenges seem bite-sized to us grown-ups but seem giant-sized to a kid barely four feet tall. And I like that a lot, because those little daily problems (such as your sister ruining a school project or reciting a poem in front of the whole school) are what life is chock full of for kids. 

What I don't love about this book: I think his parents help him too much. It's his super-hip artist dad that helps him redesign his school project after his sister douses it in glitter. And it's his always-patient mother who rescues him at the climax of the story, smack dab in the biggest small problem of his whole life. I love books where the kids have the total spotlight and the parents are in the background--I love watching kids solve their own problems, even if they create some problems of their own, too. 

But despite my misgivings, I enjoyed watching Billy grow over the course of the year, and this is a great one to read this summer with your soon-to-be second grader, or a book to let that kiddo read by him/herself.

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