When it comes to the Millers, family is pretty much the best thing ever. Mama, Papa, Billy, and Sal are four super dedicated folks who seriously love each other. Sure, there are some rough patches, like when Sal bugs her big bro like whoa or when Billy can't stand his little sis's crying. But overall, this family is filled with laughter, fun, and even a cello with mannequin arms (true story), and they stick together from the first page of The Year of Billy Miller to the last. So that leaves one big question: What's the secret ingredient that makes this family so strong?
Family makes life easy. When it comes to the Millers, they are a smooth-sailing ship and even the rough patches can't mess things up.
Family makes life harder. When the Millers hit some tough spots, they have seriously negative effects on the family bond.
Gear up for a rollercoaster ride, Shmoopers, because that's what school is like for Billy in The Year of Billy Miller. One day he's nervous as all get-out because of the lump on his head, and the next he's happy as a clam playing with his friends. Then our guy is feeling confident and awesome… until he's feeling tired and bored.
Yep, Billy feels all the feelings when it comes to his second-grade education, and he's got a lot of homework and new challenging lessons (hello poetry-writing) to boot, which means he's constantly facing new challenges. Good thing Billy has a bunch of good teachers to help make second grade go from a scary place to the best year yet.
School is the pits. For Billy, school is a lot of hard work no matter how you slice it, and that stinks.
School is the best. For Billy, school is fun no matter what, so it's a pretty cool place to be.
When Billy Miller looks in the mirror, what do you think he sees? The Year of Billy Miller is about Billy Miller figuring out who exactly he is now that he's in second grade, which means we find Billy thinking about his identity an awful lot in this book. Sometimes all this has Billy realizing that he can change, but other times Billy feels like his identity just is what it is, and that's that. Whichever road this dude takes, there's one thing that's for sure: He makes some pretty major discoveries about himself along the way.
Identity is solid as stone. In The Year of Billy Miller, Billy keeps his identity on the straight and narrow, making sure he never changes.
Identity is as fluid as the sea. In The Year of Billy Miller, Billy's sense of self changes a ton with each new experience he has.
We'll level with you: Compassion doesn't always come easily for Billy in The Year of Billy Miller. And there are a few folks who push his buttons like nobody's business (we're looking at you Emma and Sal). Plus, there're accidental slip-ups, like when he's teasing Emma but it looks like he's poking fun at Ms. Silver. In short, Billy has plenty of potholes to work around on his road to being a more compassionate guy, and in the end he makes some serious progress. We're not saying the road is easy, but Billy ultimately finds that being nice might just be the best option around.
Compassion equals strength. Billy becomes Mr. Kindness by the end of second grade, and that makes him a seriously strong dude.
Compassion equals weakness. Billy might become a nicer guy over the course of the year, but he becomes a wimp, too.
A year can mean lots of different things, and in The Year of Billy Miller, we're operating on the school calendar, covering fall through spring with a nice summer vacation in between. Oh, and there's also the Chinese New Year calendar in this book, which revolves around something else entirely: the moon. No matter how we choose to measure time, though, in this book lots can change as it marches on.
Changes, changes—in this book, everything changes for the better over time.
Changes, shmanges—in this book, everything changes over time, but some of those changes have Billy down in the dumps.
Here's the situation: Art is cool, but it's also lots of work. And in The Year of Billy Miller, we have multiple characters realizing just how tough making art can be. Let's take a look at Papa: He's a seriously creative guy, but he still has to put in a ton of work to find inspiration for creating new funky pieces of art. Sure, he ends up being pretty successful, but that doesn't mean it's an easy task. And if you ask us, Billy isn't finding art inspiration any easier to come by. Whether it's his diorama project or his poem for Mama, making art can be a real uphill climb.
In this book, art is all about self-expression and that means it should be a solo activity whenever possible.
In this book, art requires other people. It's impossible to be super creative alone, so it's all about coming together.
Most of the time, Billy wants to grow up. Pronto. And for him growing up is about not acting like a little kid anymore. In fact, one of Billy's biggest worries is that folks will think he's acting like a baby. So when Emma makes fun of him for being immature, it seriously gets him down, and when he feels scared and childish, our main man would rather hide this than share it.
But Billy's not the only one who wants to grow up in The Year of Billy Miller, and his little sis is raring to become a big kid as fast as she can. The challenge for these two, then, is figuring out how they can start acting more grownup without actually jumping ahead in time.
Coming of age is inevitable. Billy would have grown up no matter what, so it's no big deal.
Coming of age is a choice, and for Billy, growing up means making decisions that are more mature.
The Year of Billy Miller is chock-full of hard workers. Yep, we've got a book where our characters can persevere through their rough patches. So when Billy hits a roadblock when he's writing his poem, he pushes right on through, and when Papa can't find inspiration for his art, he just keeps on chugging. Even Sal works hard at reading, plus we've got some hard-working role models in Mama and Ms. Silver, to boot. In fact, we have a tough time finding any characters that don't persevere through their struggles in this tale.
But that doesn't mean the struggles are easy to get through. And it sure doesn't mean that the characters always reach their goals exactly like they'd predicted. But them's the breaks when it comes to perseverance.
Working hard won't get you anywhere. Billy works hard but never truly meets his goals so it's not really worth it.
Working hard is tough but totally valuable. Billy faces tons of rough patches, but he perseveres through each and always emerges a bit better for having done so.