I finished my first of this year’s winners, folks, and the lucky title is…The Year of Billy Miller! I will freely admit that I read this one first because it looked like the fastest read; new Newberys are rarely renewable at the library, so it’s best to move right along if you can. To be perfectly honest, on the night I started it I got thirty pages in and was kind of disappointed. I didn’t think it was bad, necessarily, but Billy didn’t feel like a character that I personally had anything in common with (someone really needs to invent a way of not ending sentences with prepositions that doesn’t sound formal and/or pretentious in today’s society). So I set it down feeling kind of glum about not enjoying my first 2014 winner as much as I wanted to be enjoying it. I was, however, pleasantly surprised on the following night. (Did I mention that I mostly read before bed? I don’t concentrate well with the kids interrupting me, so my reading time happens at night, once the kids are down and all necessary nighttime tasks are performed. Or most. I’ve been known to procrastinate some such tasks in favor of reading once or twice…a week.) And the next night as well. By the end I decided that I like Billy Miller BETTER than I liked Olive’s Ocean, Henkes’ other winner. The writing and the story flowed together more nicely, and the simplicity of it fit the plot well. And although the plot deals with simple experiences in a 2nd grader’s life, not life-changing ones, I found I liked that, too. Much of our growing is done that way, through brief, not-very-memorable-sounding incidents that for some reason bring us up to a slightly higher level of understanding. This worked for me.
I have to admit, though, that as much as I liked this one, my very favorite Kevin Henkes books are the ones I read to my kids. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, Chrysanthemum, Owen, Chester’s Way…the man is a genius. I gave Sheila Rae, the Brave to my four year old for Christmas this past year. I love that man’s mice. ‘About all I can say is, WOW!’
(Postscript, or another Newbery note: my seven year old is really, really enjoying Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Which I took some time choosing for her for Christmas. This makes me happy!)