If you’re looking for a warm, fuzzy read, The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes is it. Of course, I’m a thirty-nine year old mother of four, so of course I would feel that way about this story of an ordinary second grader with a warm and loving family and oodles of little boy perspective. This story is divided into four parts: Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother, and each part is a vignette of Billy’s relationship with each of those significant people in his life. Not a lot really happens, but we get inside Billy’s head and see things the way he does. We understand his regret over a bit of little boy behavior on the first day of school and his sweet (oh, so sweet!) attempt to make it up to his teacher. We see his intuitive understanding of his dad’s frustration with his work and how he tries to help him. We see his frustration with his younger sister but how, in the end, they are (of course!) a team. And lastly, we see how he chooses to honor his mother in a special way at school since she, a high school English teacher, always misses field trips and such at his school. We see how Billy fits in his own little world. It is indeed The Year of Billy Miller.
I saw a comparison somewhere online between this book and Ramona Quimby, Clementine, and the like. Yes, I think that’s pretty accurate. This is a sweet, timeless sort of tale. My only quibble with it at first is that the point of view seems rather detached, but by the end of the story I had forgotten about that. Gentle and warm are words that come to mind when I think of this story. Here’s one such warm snippet:
They shared a pleasant, companionable silence. Then Papa ruffled Billy’s hair. Billy could feel Papa’s fingers lingering, searching, like when he checked for ticks after they went hiking or camping.
“Hey, mister,” Papa said, “you are lump free.”
Strangely, it was as if Papa’s words were coming through his fingers and from all around, pressing against Billy. And Billy felt the full force of Papa’s attention. (104)
I think I might hand this one over to Louise, just to get her take on it. It’s a Cybils middle grade fiction nominee, and it has even made the SLJ Heavy Medal mock Newbery blog. I’m not sure it’s the best book of the year, but it is a good one. (Greenwillow, 2013)