Review of Billy Miller Makes a Wish

Billy Miller Makes a Wish
by Kevin Henkes
Primary, Intermediate    Greenwillow    192 pp.    g
4/21    978-0-06-304279-7    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-304281-0    $8.99

When Billy Miller fell on his head at the beginning of The Year of Billy Miller (rev. 9/13), he worried about forgetting things and whether he was smart enough for second grade. In this welcome sequel, school is over for the year and Billy is a “second-and-a-half grader” now worrying about his eighth birthday wish. Fearing a long, boring summer, he’d wished for excitement. But “excitement” comes in the form of an ambulance arriving at his neighbor’s house, and when Mr. Tooley dies, Billy thinks maybe his wish was responsible. Then there’s a bat in the basement, a chimney fire, and his younger sister, Sal, tattooing her legs with his special birthday markers. And why is his mother so tired all the time? Billy must also put up with Sal, who is almost four, and he doesn’t always find her as amusing as readers will. In fact, he wonders “how long big brothers had to suffer because of their little sisters.” Henkes is a master of characterization, deftly using dabs of telling details to build his characters (Sal, for instance, with her collection of whale-shaped erasers she calls the Drip Sisters, the “symphony cards” she makes for Mr. Tooley’s family, the birthday present she wrapped all by herself that looks like “a big ball of crumpled tissue paper”). But when Mama and Papa share exciting news at the end of the story, Billy changes his mind about that wish he had regretted. “Now he wouldn’t change it for anything.”

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider
Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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