Newbery Verdict: The Year of Billy Miller

The Year of Billy Miller // by Kevin Henkes (2013)

year-billy-millerNewbery Honor Book (2014)
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Billy Miller is starting second grade. When he has a fall and gets a bump on his head, he begins to worry that he’s not quite smart enough for school. And so begins the year where Billy tries to figure out what makes him Billy…

MY THOUGHTS…

So this is the author of some wonderful picture book characters, like Lily (of purple plastic purse fame). Kevin Henkes does a really nice job with Billy Miller and his family. I love his family! He has such a creative and sympathetic Papa! (Although, Billy thinks that he’s getting a little too old to be calling his Papa and begins to call him “Dad”.) I really enjoyed how Billy inspires Papa when he’s feeling down about his work.

One of my favourite parts is when Billy and his sister try to stay up all night. 3-year-old Sal wants to play with her dolls. Billy has no interest in playing with the dolls, but he feels that if he wants Sal to stay awake, he better do what she suggests. THEN, he plays with the dolls by creating an explosion! (Typical boy!) Suffice it to say that Sal isn’t impressed. But the two of them end up working it all out. 🙂

NEWBERY VERDICT…

For a lower grade book, this story is fun with a lot of endearing characters. I can definitely see why they gave this book a Newbery Honor.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal, or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

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Newbery Verdict: The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars // by Gary D. Schmidt

wednesday-warsNewbery Honor Book (2008)
Genre: Upper MG, Historical Fiction (1960s)
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Holling Hoodhood is the only kid in class who doesn’t have catechism or bar mitzvah lessons on Wednesdays. This means he’s stuck in school with his teacher. And guess what? She’s not exactly keen on having Holling there, and he’s convinced that she’s out to get him. This is confirmed when she assigns him the task of reading Shakespeare. And so begin the Wednesday Wars.

MY THOUGHTS…

This is the story of a boy and his teacher and how their relationship blossoms. One of the best scenes is when Holling suggests they come up with a code so that he knows he’s doing something right. Her response is to basically roll her eyes.

I love all the Shakespeare references. It’s fun how this extends to Holling’s life beyond the classroom, when he finds himself in the theatrical production of The Tempest. Of course, this fact gives us no shortage of conflict involving the school bully and yellow feathers.

The title of this book is spot on. The Wednesday Wars brings out the themes of the war between Holling and his teacher; the war between Holling and his sister; between Holling and his dad; between the dad and the rival architect; and of course, the Vietnam War itself since this is a book set in the 1960s.

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

“No teacher jokes,” I said. “No one ever laughs at teacher jokes.”

“All right… No teacher jokes.” …

“And no rolling your eyes, even if someone says something really stupid.”

“I never roll my eyes,” said Mrs. Baker.

I looked at her.

“All right,” she said. “No rolling eyes. Anything else, coach?”

“When someone does something good, I think you should let them know, with some sort of code.”

“I think you mean that when someone does something well–as in obeying the rules of proper diction–we should use a code. What do you suggest?”

“Well, maybe ‘Azalea’ for something good, and ‘Chrysanthemum’ for something really good.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hoodhood. We’ll dispense with the code, and I’ll simply use the unvarnished English language to tell you when you’ve done something well. But as to teacher jokes, folding of arms, and rolling of eyes, I’ll consider your advice.”

(Chapter – March)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – When I first read this book about 10 years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never read anything by this author before. And I loved it! The Newbery Winner that year (2008) was Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz. I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. But another Newbery Honor for 2008 was Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (which I have read; and also love). If I had been one of the Newbery decision-makers that year, I’d have had a hard time choosing between those two books!

By the way, there’s a companion book to this one called Okay for Now, which features Holling’s friend: Doug Swieteck. You can read my review here.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal, or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Review: Ms. Bixby’s Last Day

27064348._UY630_SR1200,630_Book: Ms. Bixby’s Last Day
Author: John David Anderson
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: When Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she’ll be leaving her class before the year is up, three of her students hatch a plan to give their teacher the last day she deserves.

WHAT’S COOL

1) Ms. Bixby seems like a great teacher. I would have loved to have had her. (Bonus: She’s reading The Hobbit to her class as a read-aloud! How cool is that?)

2) I love how we get glimpses throughout the story of how Ms. Bixby has influenced the boys, each separately and also together. Little by little, we see why the boys are willing to skip school to say their last good-byes. Or non-good-byes. Whatever.

3) The shifting viewpoints of each of the three works well. It’s a nice way to get to know each boy.

4) George Nelson is a good antagonist. Love how they deal with him.

5) I liked Eduardo, who bakes amazing cheesecake! I particularly like the whole interchange with the boys about why he calls his store Michelle’s 🙂

6) Of course, I love The Hobbit references. (Although, I feel bad that the rest of the class doesn’t get to hear Ms. Bixby read the final 20 pages!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL

1) The first line is “Rebecca Roudabush has cooties.” Fine. Actually, that’s a great opening to the book. If Rebecca is a major part of the plot. Sadly, she’s not. She’s basically only in the first chapter. (Oh, she shows up in the classroom flashbacks, but it’s nothing special.) I was waiting for her to join the three boys on their quest, but she doesn’t. I was slightly disappointed by this.

2) I didn’t like how the other sixth grade teacher, Mr. Mackelroy, was treated by the author. Okay, so he wasn’t as cool as Ms. Bixby, but did you have to make him so unlikeable?? As an adult, I felt this went too much into caricature. (And not in a good way.)

3) I don’t know HOW Ms. Bixby is able to leave the hospital to go on their picnic. She’s sick. She’s dying. While the picnic is very touching, realistically it wouldn’t be able to happen that way. Why didn’t they just have the picnic in her room?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book quite a lot. It’s your standard students-inspired-by-a-cool-teacher trope, but I thought it had enough of a fresh story to be a good read.