Review: The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

year of billy miller

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

After getting a big lump on his head from a fall during their family vacation, Billy is worried that he’s not going to be smart enough for 2nd grade.  And when he starts 2nd grade, he still has a lump on his head!  The year doesn’t start easily with Billy accidentally insulting his new teacher on the very first day.  He has to figure out how to fix the misunderstanding before she gets the wrong idea about him.  Then Billy’s father who is a stay-at-home dad and an artist is trying to find his next breakthrough in his art.  It is Billy who has to learn how to deal with a grumpy father but along the way he also serves as inspiration for his dad.  When his parents go to his father’s gallery show, Billy tries to stay up all night, keeping his little sister up with him for as long as he can.  Finally, he selects his mother as the person he wants to write a poem about.  But it’s not that easy, since he has to make sure he doesn’t insult anyone with his choice and then has to read his poem aloud in front of an audience.  Along the way, Billy learns a lot about how to act in a family, how to support one another but mostly how to love each other.

Henkes has written a book about a boy that will be perfect for fans of Clementine and Ramona.  Happily, he does not resort to grossness, bodily functions, farting or any of the other plot devices so often used in books about boys.  Here instead we have a real boy, one who makes mistakes but also tries to do what is right for his family.  Broken into chapters that are focused on a single relationship: teacher, father, sister, and mother, this book is welcoming to young readers thanks to its logical structure and clear focus.

The black and white art in the book is done by Henkes.  Unfortunately, the digital galley I read did not include much of the art.  What was in the galley adds much to the book, nicely breaking the text into more manageable parts.

A tip top chapter book, this one is destined to be a classic.  I’d think that sharing it would be a great way to start any 2nd grade school year.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Greenwillow Books.

Review: The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

boy who loved math

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Paul Erdos grew up loving math from a very young age.  Growing up in Budapest, Hungary, Paul loved to think about numbers.  Unfortunately, he didn’t love school with all of its rules, so he was homeschooled by Fraulein, his nanny, until he went to high school.  Paul grew famous for his math but he still could not take care of himself and do his own laundry, cook his meals or even butter his own bread.  So when at age 21 he was invited to go to England to work on his math, he was worried about whether he could do it.  It turned out that buttering bread was not that difficult and that he would follow his own sort of lifestyle that ignored the rules.  So he traveled and did math around the world, staying with fellow mathematicians and relying on them to take care of him and his laundry and his meals.  He was the furthest thing from a stereotypical solitary mathematician to the point that people now have an “Erdos number” that shows how closely they worked with the amazing mathematician Paul Erdos.

This is such a wonderful biography.  It is a breath of fresh air in so many ways.  First, it plays against the stereotype of introverted and shy mathematicians working in solitude on formulas and instead shows Erdos as a vivacious man who didn’t just work with others, but depended on them.  Second, it shows mathematics as ever changing and new, something that is enticing and exciting.  Heiligman uses a light tone throughout as well as an obvious respect for Erdos’ brilliance and accomplishments. 

The illustrations share the same playful feel of the text.  Done in bold colors and dynamic motion, they have a humor that is welcome as well.  The look on Erdos’ face as he tries to butter his own bread for the first time is priceless and wonderful.  Children will be amazed that such a bright man would struggle with basic tasks.

A pleasure to read, this is an unusual biography that will make a welcome addition to nonfiction shelves.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.