Elizabeth Partridge, Author of Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam | Speed Interview
The Children’s Book Review | April 11, 2018
The Children’s Book Review: Which five words best describe Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam?
Elizabeth Partridge: Intense. Eye-opening. Heart-breaking. Ultimately affirming.
Can you share one highlight from Boots on the Ground with our readers?
This is a tough question, as my mind is full of many favorite moments. I think the moral quandaries the soldiers found themselves in were such defining moments. One of the men I interviewed, an African American, had been trained by Martin Luther King Jr. as a non-violent “foot soldier” in the civil rights movement. Once he was in the army, he was assigned the job of machine gunner. At first he was determined to never fire his machine gun. But after he saw his buddies killed, he wanted revenge. He spent a year as a machine gunner, and felt the military turned him into a “professional killer.” When he got home, he had to really struggle to find his humanity again. For him, a deep and abiding faith in God helped him through the dark times he confronted.
What has been the best reaction from a reader, so far?
This is an easy question to answer. I took an Advanced Reader’s Copy to one of the vets whose interview I included in BOOTS. I was nervous about how he would feel reading the chapter about his year serving in Vietnam. He is a rough-tough guy on the outside, but had been very candid in sharing his experiences with me. He called me the day after I dropped off the book, and said he had read it straight through. “You got me,” he said. “You really understand what it was like for me in Vietnam. Thank you so much.”
Why do you think history books are an important part of a child’s home library?
Because history is so interesting! And there is a lot to be said for re-reading a history book several months or years later, when you can take in more of the nuance. And photos are great to pore over, not just glance at.
From the time my younger son Felix learned to read, he has always preferred nonfiction, especially “the way things work” and history books. Novels never caught his attention. We tend to think of history as something academic to be learned, and novels to enjoy, but that’s not true for all kids.
For your writing energy: sugar or salt, tea or coffee?
I’m in for two of these energy-boosters: teapot full of steaming hot black tea in the morning, and rich, dark chocolate in the afternoon.
Writing tools: computer, pen and paper, or all of the above?
Yep, all of the above. I tend to scratch out random notes on pieces of paper and fling them on my desk. Once they pile up enough, I start using the computer. Even while I’m using the computer, the free-floating ideas and “ah-ha!” moments I jot down on paper.
What’s on your nightstand? Any books?
There’s always a lot of clutter scattered on my nightstand, the latest issue of Horn Book, and a stack of books. Some are graphic novels, which I’ve been binge-reading lately. There are also some very old, dusty books from back library shelves as I begin researching my next project. And in the clutter are a couple pens and sheets of paper, for those early morning thoughts that I want to make sure I capture.
Can you tell us something that even your most loyal fans may not know about you?
My family and I planted an apple orchard that now has about four dozen trees in it. They are mostly old antique apples – varieties people share with each other and plant to save for future generations. We also have some apples that grow really well in our location, called Gravensteins. We have two little trees called the Wickson crabapple, named after my great uncle, a California horticulturalist. I think it’s totally cool to have an apple tree named after someone in my family.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I learned so much interviewing veterans of the Vietnam War. I found it is really hard to understand the intensity of being in combat. For most veterans, it has a life-long impact. I hope readers of BOOTS ON THE GROUND come away with a feeling for how terrifying and devastating combat can be.
Right now we have an all-volunteer military, but I question if that’s fair. During the Vietnam War we had a draft. Young men had to serve in the military or find a way to be excused from service. It meant everyone had a stake in the war, and there were a lot of protests at home from people who opposed the war. It caused huge divisions in our country, but it was also a massive period of growth for our nation.
Written by Elizabeth Partridge
Publisher’s Synopsis: America’s war in Vietnam. In over a decade of bitter fighting, it claimed the lives of more than 58,000 American soldiers and beleaguered four US presidents. More than forty years after America left Vietnam in defeat in 1975, the war remains controversial and divisive both in the United States and abroad.
The history of this era is complex; the cultural impact extraordinary. But it’s the personal stories of eight people—six American soldiers, one American military nurse, and one Vietnamese refugee—that create the heartbeat of Boots on the Ground. From dense jungles and terrifying firefights to chaotic helicopter rescues and harrowing escapes, each individual experience reveals a different facet of the war and moves us forward in time. Alternating with these chapters are profiles of key American leaders and events, reminding us of all that was happening at home during the war, including peace protests, presidential scandals, and veterans’ struggles to acclimate to life after Vietnam.
With more than one hundred photographs, award-winning author Elizabeth Partridge’s unflinching book captures the intensity, frustration, and lasting impacts of one of the most tumultuous periods of American history.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers | April 10, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0670785063
About the Author
Elizabeth Partridge is a National Book Award finalist, Printz Honor winner, and author of several nonfiction books for children, including Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange;This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie; John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth; and Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
This speed interview with Elizabeth Partridge, author of Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam, was conducted by Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with American History, Non-Fiction, Vietnam War, and Speed Interview.