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Newbery or Not: The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

Book Blurb: “Award-winning, nationally bestselling author Kevin Henkes introduces second-grader Billy Miller in this fast-paced and funny story about friendship, sibling rivalry, and elementary school. The Year of Billy Miller includes black-and-white art by Kevin Henkes and is perfect for fans of the Ramona books, Frindle, by Andrew Clements, and the Clementine series. When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad. Newbery Honor author and Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes delivers a short, satisfying, laugh-out-loud-funny school and family story that features a diorama homework assignment, a school poetry slam, cancelled sleepovers, and epic sibling temper tantrums. Illustrated throughout with black-and-white art by the author, this is a perfect short novel for the early elementary grades.”

Pub Stub: Greenwillow Books, ISBN-10 0062268120, September 2013

Author Tidbits: Henkes, Kevin. 2004 Caldecott Medal winner for Kitten’s First Full Moon. 2004 Newbery Honor recipient for Olive’s Ocean. Much-beloved picture book author and illustrator, particularly for his mouse characters, including the eponymous heroine of Chrysanthemum (Greenwillow Books, 1991).

Newbery or Not: Billy Miller may not have enough heft to go up against this year’s midgrade novels, but its qualities remain remarkable. Hero Billy faces issues that might trouble any second grader: the fear that he isn’t smart enough, occasional parental crabbiness, tough school projects including a shoebox diorama, and an adorable but frustrating toddler sister. With the support of his family, Billy survives second grade and even has a few unexpected successes, although staying awake all night yet eludes him. Reassuring and timeless, this novel in four parts–almost a novella collection–may not go gold but deserves a silver.

Weigh In: Is The Year of Billy Miller outstanding, or too plain of language for a prize?

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