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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes. Harper, 2013. $18.99 ages 7 and up

"Laid out on the table in Papa's work area were several wooden cigar boxes. Each one had various items placed inside it. The inside of one box resembled a landscape, another a city. One looked like a funny face with mismatched watch dial eyes, a doorknob nose, and a black plastic comb mustache. The boxes were in different stages of completion."

Billy Miller has some worries as he prepares to head back to school for second grade. He has a big lump on his head from a fall during vacation, and he wonders if it might affect his preparedness for the upcoming year. To add to his anxiety,  he unwittingly insults his new teacher:

"It dawned on him. Ms. Silver thought he was making fun of her. She thought that the two red markers were meant to be her two red chopsticks. She thought that the ugly face he'd made at Emma was an imitation of her, Ms. Silver. Billy didn't know what to do."

There is much happening in the world to cause concern for a seven year boy. Kevin Henkes writes this new book from Billy's point of view, and offers up a story that would be a perfect way to begin the school year in a second grade class. Billy wants his teacher to like him, and to understand that he is a good and worthy person. So, the first section of the book concerns his time at school and his attempts to ensure that Ms. Silver sees him in that light. He does everything he can:

"Before school, Billy gathered the following: a nickel, a dime, a quarter, a paper clip, a safety pin, and a nail. Each of these things was silver in color and each would be a gift for Ms. Silver. Billy wanted one thing more, something better somehow, something important, to add to his collection. When he was sitting on the edge of his bed putting on his shoes, he found it."

Ms. Silver is the very best kind of teacher, and helps Billy understand what his father says when he assures him that this year is destined to be The Year of Billy Miller. In the second section of the book, we learn more about his stay-at-home dad, who also happens to be an artist in need of inspiration. Billy is happy to help. In the final two parts of the book we meet Sal, his younger, often sweet and sometimes annoying, sister and learn about their relationship:

"It was strange, but already he felt less afraid. How could a three-year-old make him feel safe? Especially one who was mostly asleep. Although part of him knew there was no monster under his bed, he did not want to go back to his room. He wanted to stay here."

In the final section we learn a bit about Billy's mother; his choice for a poetry assignment is to write something about her. It is not an easy task. But, he perseveres and manages to create a poem that his mother loves and that captures her essence. Then he shares it in an end-of-the-school-year show.

This is a book that should be read out loud to your children or your class. It is destined to be a classic, and maybe you heard it here first! Quietly familiar and real, there is  much to love about it. It is indeed Billy's year, and you should share it!!

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