The Year of Billy Miller
By Kevin Henkes
Published by: Greenwillow Books (September 17, 2013)
Available in: hardcover, audiobook CD, audible, Kindle, NOOK
The Year of Billy Miller is a tender, unassuming story that fills the pages with the wonderful, frustrating, miraculous, challenging days of real life in the second grade. In spare, unpretentious language and calm voice, author Henkes allows the story to unfold with careful ease. There is no parade of exclamation marks or plot calamities. Emotions are honest, feelings are genuine and life moves slowly with exquisite charm.
The superb layout, length and format of the book give it the appearance of—perhaps—the first real book a child might attempt to tackle. The basic, simple illustrations fit quietly on every few pages. No grand illustrations push the text aside. Four parts of the book, with chapters in each part, push the length in the print version to more than 200 pages. This feels like a book with heft. And yet the clean, large typography and ample white space still invite the beginning reader.
Unique to this book is how our hero points out the differences between a second and third grader. An insightful moment that is sure to make kids nod. He also demonstrates how emotions can jump from one feeling to another in a mere moment, and he is often struck silent with an inability to express himself in words.
The Year of Billy Miller is a Newberry Honor Book for 2014, and deservedly so. Along with The Lion Whole Stole My Arm, it is one of a very few new stories that challenge the contemporary chapter book format to evolve and grow. Brilliant and still completely accessible to today’s young reader, these books take us to where chapter books should aim to go.
An aside for those who follow this blog and the on-going chapter books vs. middle grade discussion: I find it interesting that the book is listed on Amazon.com for ages 8–12, grades 3–7. It’s easily a book for advanced readers in first grade as well as second graders who are reading independently. And it’s way too young for kids from about fifth grade on. Seriously, this is so frustrating… is the term “chapter book” a pariah in the publishing industry?
What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….