Year One Re-Post #11: The Year of Billy Miller

Originally published in April 2014. Definitely one of my favorites and a breakthrough for chapter books: this award winner caught the eye of more than the chapter book crowd. A contemporary classic.

billymillercover

The Year of Billy Miller

By Kevin Henkes

 

Published by: Greenwillow Books (September 17, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, audiobook CD, audible, Kindle, NOOK

 

 

Real.

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….

 

 

Joe Sherlock Mysteries

joeSherlockcover

JOE SHERLOCK, KID DECTECTIVE, CASE #000004: THE HEADLESS MUMMY

By Dave Keane

 

Published by: HarperCollins (January 30, 2007)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were six books in the Joe Sherlock series.

 

 

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Joe Sherlock, Kid Detective, Case #000004: The Headless Mummy is part of a winning mystery formula based on a love of legendary super sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. With fun additions like Baskerville Elementary and Baker Street, the inside jokes help carry the story to a very satisfactory ending.

Part of the reason author/illustrator Keane’s young Joe is such an endearing protagonist is his imperfect nature. Although able to use good common sense to solve the puzzle at the core of the book, Joe also has challenges that concern him. Like his difficulty in reading. And his difficulty in understanding big words or expressions. Even though he solves the mystery, Joe is not a know-it-all. Most sweet.

The book is also filled with truly quirky characters and plot points worthy of a good laugh out loud. There’s his sister Doreen, who’s really a disposable glove filled with water… which he sits on and breaks, fearing he’s wet his pants. His (real) sister, Hailey, is a comic delight, and things like a pancake that look like a TV host keep the humor rolling from page to page.

The entire book feels like a young boy’s journal: the typeface is sort of jolly, the illustrations are goofy and original, and the plot moves appropriately sideways just as it moves forward. At times the tone and point of view feel almost adult in tone, but this is not a criticism. It feels distinct and different from other chapter books, which fit the young Joe Sherlock like a good herringbone jacket.

It’s no mystery: Joe Sherlock is one cool chapter book series.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

 

 

 

Billy Miller’s Wonderful Year

billymillercover

The Year of Billy Miller

By Kevin Henkes

 

Published by: Greenwillow Books (September 17, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, audiobook CD, audible, Kindle, NOOK

 

 

Real.

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….