Oh Hallelujah. I have asked panels of adult male authors to please, please, please write a book for 7-9 year old boys that talks to them about growing up and they've told me point blank either "I don't know how to do that" or "I have already done that." This is a huge glaring abyss that desperately needs to be filled with more well-written books and I am announcing with the blare of a trumpet that the one and only Kevin Henkes has turned his fine, intuitive, exquisitely sensitive hand to this young fellow and delivered to us a quivering lad who has great qualities unfolding, big questions about being a boy, and a careful sense of what is truly important in young male lives.
Billy Miller is about to start the second grade and he is walking into school for the first day with something other second graders probably won't have... a lump on his head. Along with that lump comes anxiety, worries and fears of future mental decline. Can you feel how real that is? Can you connect with how plenty of guys ... little guys... have big fears and wonder if that makes them weird, or unusual or somehow maybe not quite the guy they should be?
Boyness is mysterious and some boys really know that. They travel onward wondering where they should be going and worrying that they aren't getting it all right. Getting less than the old A plus on the test of being a boy.
We've all heard of the Year of the Dog or Snake, well this is the year of Billy Miller as is so declared by none other than Billy Miller's Papa. Can you imagine the feeling of having your Dad declare the year in your name? What an honor, what an uplifting moment spilling over with potential and possibilities. Something must be working right.
This year is divided into four sections. First Billy discovers himself in school and through the eyes of his teacher. He stumbles a bit and finds himself worried and embarrassed that his teacher might think badly of him. Then he has to figure out a way to redeem himself or at the very least, how to reveal himself to his teacher as a good person.
Next he looks at himself through his experiences with his Dad. This is followed by a section featuring his Sister and the book ends with a chapter about his relationship with his Mom. Curious isn't it that Mom is last?
This is a sensitive, caring story written to reassure every young male that he does indeed have the map, the key to the castle, and the right stuff inside. This is a story that gives young males the glossary and the translated version so they can find out without asking the embarrassing questions, that most guys worry about how they look to their important others, and that giving to others can be very satisfying and that Moms and Dads rock.
This is not the book to hand to a Jokester but it is very much the book to be cherished by a Seeker, by Belonger and perhaps an Answerman or two.
As I read it, I wondered how many years it had taken Kevin Henkes to accumulate the incidents and the tender quandries that come together in a life to create the individual story. The thin new pink skin of Billy Miller can be felt through the story line. He hasn't toughened up and hopefully he never will completely.
A lovely, loving, gentle nudge toward being a big guy. What a great gift it is.
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com
240 pages 9780062268129 Ages 7-10
"Talk to me some more
You don't have to go
You're the poetry man
And you make things all right"
-- Phoebe Snow (1974)
"Billy wriggled his hand into his pocket and pulled out his silver things. The nail got caught and made a little rip in his pocket. His hands were clammy. 'Here,' he said. 'These are silver like your name.'
"Ms. Silver took the items and held them in both hands the way she'd held the nest. 'Are these for me?' she asked.
"Billy inclined his head shyly and softened his voice to a whisper. 'I'm really a nice person,' he said. He couldn't look at her, but he could feel her eyes upon him like a net. His heart was thrumming.
"'I can tell you're a nice person,' she said.
"'A very nice person.'
"Billy felt great relief.
"'Tell me about this rabbit,' said Ms. Silver."
I am so totally wowed by the extent to which we repeatedly are privy to the inner musings and processing of feelings of second-grader Billy Miller in Kevin Henkes's THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER. It makes me seriously wish that I could temporarily morph into a second- or third-grade teacher, so as to experience the satisfaction of reading aloud this gem-of-a-tale to a classroom of young students.
Billy Miller heads into his second grade year shortly after experiencing a mishap involving his new baseball cap and the lookout platform that is situated between the feet of the (55.5 foot-tall) Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, Minnesota. His natural apprehension over the beginning of a new school year is multiplied by his recognition of his parents worries about him and the fine lump on his head he gained in his fall from that lookout platform.
Is he smart enough, he wonders, for second grade?
The new school year also brings challenges resulting from a girl in his class with whom Billy quickly develops a mutual antagonism, and a restlessness on the part of Billy's father, who stays home with Billy's little sister and who is seeking success and fulfillment with his artwork.
"Billy sighed. He realized that as soon as one problem is solved, something else is right there, waiting to take up your time."
Among the highlights of the other challenges he faces over the course of the school year is his coming to terms with having a younger sibling. There is also the fun self-challenge of trying to stay awake all night long. And the challenge of writing and then performing a poem before classmates, parents, and other relatives. This is all written about in such a genuine, heart-based, and thoughtful manner, and is a book I would have loved back in my own young years.
A high-level transitional reader structured in four sections, Teacher, Father, Sister, and Mother, THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER is an absolutely beautiful and wonderful read.