cover image Billy the Great

Billy the Great

Rosa Guy. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-385-30666-9

A ponderous lesson in overcoming prejudice overwhelms this insubstantial story about friendship and parental short-sightedness. Billy's parents' high hopes for their son (``My Billy is going to be a teacher.'' ``With his strong back and legs? No, Billy's going to be a great soccer player'') seem threatened when Rod and his family move in next door. Although Billy's family is black and Rod's is white, the question of race does not enter the conflict; rather, the question of class does in Billy's mother's comment, the meaning of which will be lost on the book's intended audience, that ``He's too big for you to play with. Besides, his father has tattoos.'' The boys' ability to surmount their parents' misguided concerns proves equally puzzling as it comes about somewhat arbitrarily after Rod teaches Billy to perform a cartwheel. Binch's ( Amazing Grace ) vibrant, spirited watercolors enliven Guy's ( Mother Crocodile ) plodding text. The collection of ``snapshots'' that adorn the beginning and end of the book reinforces the proud parents theme. Unfortunately, however, the sunny images cannot rescue the tale from its unwieldy message. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)