Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

Image from
Greenwillow Books, 2013

It’s time for Billy Miller to start 2nd grade. He’s excited to be in Room 2, but worried that he might not be smart enough to please his teacher Ms. Silver. He’s looking forward to sitting at the desk right next to his best friend Ned, but Ms. Silver assigns seats and the annoying know-it-all Emma Sparks gets his seat! And that’s just the first day! From creating dioramas to writing poetry, from learning about volcanoes to Chinese New Year, Billy’s year is full of new, wonderful, sad, strange, and beautiful experiences. What a crazy and wonderful year! Good thing Mama, Papa, and his little sister Sal are there to love and support him no matter what.

This sweet and funny story is divided into four parts, each one focusing on a special person in Billy’s life (Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother). Written in third person, short chronological chapters explore the small moments that make up a 2nd graders life. Young readers will easily identify with Billy’s daily dilemmas at school and at home. Billy is a likeable protagonist who sometimes acts and speaks without thinking things through. But he also has the ability to reflect on the impact of his actions and words and then to do his best to do the right thing. The members of Billy’s family are unique and fully developed from his artist father to his college professor mother. Like Billy, they have good and bad days, and Henkes expertly weaves this into the story. A variety of vocabulary words are introduced throughout (habitat, mesmerized, enveloped). Henkes is careful to define these words through context, but without patronizing the reader. A great recommendation for a reader transitioning to chapter books or a family read aloud.

Read the a bit of the book and find yourself intrigued by what the year has to hold for Billy Miller.

*Have kids write a poem about a family member, as Billy does in the book. If possible, provide an opportunity for kids to read their poems in front of an audience.

*Create habitat dioramas, like Billy and Ned, or more abstract pieces of art, like Papa. A great way to get rid of all those shoe boxes you’ve been saving!

*Check out the author study and activity guide provided on the author’s website.

*More chapter books by Henkes:

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary
The Year ofthe Dog by Grace Lin

Age 6+ / Grade 1+


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