Kevin Henkes read from this book at the Southern Festival of Books, so I was lucky enough to hear it in the author's own voice. Billy Miller is a typical second grader - he worries about being smart enough, he's afraid of being called babyish by a classmate, and he gets annoyed with his younger sister. Going through the year with Billy seems very familiar because we all have similar school memories - an annoying kid seated near us, a good friend, making a diorama, writing something to share at parent night - we've all been there. Billy is endearing in his belief that he can't put into words what he's feeling, but he still tries to show it through his actions. For example - he is making a face at a classmate and then worries that the teacher thinks he was mocking her. Instead of trying to explain, he decides to bring the teacher a gift to show her that he is a nice person. The adults in Billy's life are all supportive and nurturing, but they also have other characteristics, which makes them human rather than two-dimensional.
This would make a wonderful read-aloud for a class (or for bedtime), and would also be good for readers who enjoy realistic fiction and stories like Beezus and Ramona. The author has his own website where you can find out more about him and his books. You probably recognize his name from stories like Chrysanthemum or Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. He has a way of capturing the whimsical and the warm fuzzy feelings without going overboard on the sweetness. Amazon interviewed Mr. Henkes and he talked about his new beginning reader series and about The Year of Billy Miller.