Study Guide

Emma Sparks in The Year of Billy Miller

By Kevin Henkes

Emma Sparks

Oh no, watch out for Emma Sparks. This girl earns an A+ in rudeness and being an all-around know-it-all. And since she's Billy's classmate, he gets to experience her special brand of teasing every single day of second grade.

So we'll level with you: Emma is a smart cookie. She memorizes her poem to present it to the class, and she seems pretty motivated when it comes to her schoolwork. Plus, she tries to act super mature whenever she can.

But the reality is that Emma's maturity is, well, not always working for her. She spends a lot of her time boasting about how awesome she is or putting others, like Billy, down. And when we say that her comments can be hurtful, we mean it:

Emma leaned toward Billy and stared intently at his drawing. She made a sour face and said, "Why did you draw an instrument? For your information, we're not having a musical concert." (4.4.20)

When Billy decorates his invitation for the end-of-the-year poetry show, Emma's got a few problems with his drawing. Of course, we know that Billy is drawing Poetry Man, the coolest cello in the history of cellos—and we would bet our right hand that Mama and Papa love his drawing to pieces—but it doesn't meet Emma's rules, so she gives it the stink-eye. And that's not cool.

Emma sure does spend a lot of time hurting Billy's feelings. While this is generally pretty uncool of her, there's a bit of a silver lining: She winds up inspiring Billy to push himself. When Emma says she's going to recite her poem from memory without a paper copy as back-up, Billy can't resist trying to meet this challenge—and when he pulls it off at the very end, he feels pretty great. Which is the exact opposite of how Emma often makes him feel.