The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, 2013.
Seven-year-old Billy Miller starts second grade with a mix of anxiety and excitement. By the end of the first day anxiety wins out. There’s a bossy girl at his table who doesn’t like him. Even worse, he’s worried his teacher, Ms. Silver, thinks he was making fun of her (he wasn’t). Billy lives with his stay-at-home artist dad, his high-school English teacher mom, and his three-year-old sister, Sal. In a novel divided into sections titled Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother, Kevin Henkes’s story follows Billy over the course of his second-grade year by chronicling events that illuminate these four important relationships in his life, with each section following its own arc while fitting seamlessly into the novel as a whole. Henkes skillfully relates details and events of Billy’s life that will hit young readers right where they are at both socially and emotionally. Billy wants to fit in and stand out. He wonders. He worries. He is loved, but doesn’t always like what the people who love him—and whom he loves—do. Sometimes he falls short on patience as a big brother, and sometimes he excels at being wonderful. A novel substantial in every way is completely accessible to young children reading independently or listening to it read aloud. There’s plenty of white space, and occasional spot illustrations in storytelling defined by rich characterizations and fine plotting in a book that is often funny, but also thoughtful and touching and serious. Life is like that when you’re seven, after all. (MS) ©2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center
Encourage kids to examine the book and text more closely with these discussion questions:
1. Billy is nervous about starting second grade. What are some things that happen in the story to show us why he’s worried?
2. What makes it the year of Billy Miller?
3. How do his relationships with his teacher, father, mother and sister change throughout the book?