The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody

The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody

by Matthew Landis


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A trio of seventh graders become one another's first friends as they discover the secrets of a Civil War soldier in this middle grade novel for fans of Gordon Korman and Gary Schmidt

Twelve-year-old Oliver Prichard is obsessed with the Civil War. He knows everything about it: the battles, the generals, every movement of the Union and Confederate Armies. So when the last assignment of seventh-grade history is a project on the Civil War, Oliver is over the moon—until he's partnered with Ella Berry, the slacker girl with the messy hair who does nothing but stare out the window. And when Oliver finds out they have to research a random soldier named Private Raymond Stone who didn't even fight in any battles before dying of some boring disease, Oliver knows he's doomed.

But Ella turns out to be very different from what Oliver expected. As the partners film their documentary about Private Stone—with Oliver's friend Kevin signing on as their head writing consultant—Oliver discovers that sometimes the most interesting things are hiding in uninteresting places. Even Private Stone is better than expected: There's a mystery buried in his past, and Oliver knows he can figure it out.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735227989
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/13/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 285,118
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Matthew Landis slays boredom wherever it lurks in his eighth-grade social studies classroom. He lives in Doylestown, PA, with his wife and four kids, some chickens, and a boxer that acts much like the forgotten eldest child.

Read an Excerpt

-Chapter One-

The Project

Oliver knew Samantha wouldn’t know.

He asked anyway.

“Did you know that Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee both went to West Point?”

Samantha whipped her dark hair back and copied down the homework posted on Mr. Carrow’s PowerPoint slide. Oliver had already done that. He was always the first one to his table in social studies and always had the homework copied down before Mr. Carrow started the welcome music.

“No,” she said.

“Grant was an average student, but crazy-good at riding horses. Lee graduated second in his class.”

“I didn’t know that either.”

“And they both fought in the Mexican-American War.”


“Really. I mean think about that—two guys who went to the same military school and fought the same enemy fighting each other in the Civil War. How crazy is that?”


Samantha swiveled around to talk with a girl at the next table. Oliver didn’t really mind. Not everyone got how awesome the Civil War was, and that was okay. Awesome things still needed saying, and so he’d keep saying them.

“Grab a seat, gang,” Mr. Carrow called over the indie rock music he blared pretty much every day. He was wearing a blazer, which meant they were starting a new unit.

“Lots to do, lots to do. So much that we probably won’t even get started and you’ll all fail the fourth marking period. Won’t that be sad. Probably get some emails from parents. Not yours, Tara—they gave up on you long ago.”

Laughter rippled through the class.

“But seriously, today is a big day. Maybe the biggest in your seventh-grade career. There is a small chance that you’ll look back on this day and say, ‘That was the greatest day of my life: the day we launched our study of the American Civil War.’”

Oliver pulsed with excitement. Finally. They were going to study the thing he’d dedicated his life to. This was his arena—there was no chance of him not getting a hundred percent on this project. He would dominate and love every second of it.

“I promise that your Civil War experience will not be the one I had in seventh grade—memorizing endless battles, dates, and generals.” Mr. Carrow’s eyes swept past Oliver, landing for just a second. “Battles are important, and we’ll study some of the big ones. And the generals who conducted the war were very interesting people, and we’ll look at some of them too. But to really understand the impact of the conflict you need to look at the regular people—the soldiers, nurses, and slaves. You have to look at the mothers, daughters, and sons on the home front, and free African Americans in the North. What was the war like for them? The combined answer to that gives us a much better understanding of the war.”

Oliver’s grin turned into a flat stare. He couldn’t really disagree with Mr. Carrow; the teacher was a master of history. Literally—he had a degree that said master’s in history. But Oliver didn’t really get why he was downplaying battles, dates, and generals. Those things were what the war was made of. Oliver should know.

“Now: We’ve got a seasoned Civil War buff in our midst—someone to fill us in when the textbook can’t.” Mr. Carrow smiled at Oliver. “Ollie, I hope you can give me some additional info when we dig into the battles.”

“Uh, yeah.” Oliver nodded. Okay. So all wasn’t lost.

“Perfect. I want to lay out your unit project first. This is the lens that we’re going to use to view the entire war.” Mr. Carrow rapped his knuckles on a stack of worksheets. “Table captains, come and get ’em.”

Oliver basically ran up to the front table. He might have shoved Ian out of the way. He handed the worksheets out to his table and speed-read the directions.

And he loved it all—almost. There was one issue: It was a partner project.

But Oliver had found ways around that before. He wasn’t worried.

“Maggie, read the directions for us, would you?” Mr. Carrow asked.

Maggie’s straight black hair fell into her face as she leaned toward the paper. “With a partner, explore the wartime experience of a Civil War contemporary. Your goal is to answer a two-pr . . .”

“Two-pronged,” Mr. Carrow rescued.

“A two-pronged question: How did your character impact the war, and how did the war impact your character?”

“Thanks Maggie, great job. Max, give us the formats.”

Max unslouched a bit and started reading. “You may present your findings in one of the following formats: documentary, PowerPoint, trifold, or dramatic presentation. For specifics on each format, consult the rubric on the back side.”

Oliver had already decided on a trifold. Of course he would do a trifold. Why wouldn’t he do a trifold. He could fill it with tons of information and stand beside it dressed in his Civil War uniform. Maybe he could even bring his bayonet.

“Do we get to choose our partners?” asked Tommy.

“Let’s vote on it,” Mr. Carrow said. “Just kidding. This isn’t a democracy—it’s a somewhat benevolent dictatorship. Ian, I will define ‘benevolent’ for you after class. Dictator says, yes, you may choose your partners. But I reserve the right to reject any partnerships that could be harmful to your grade or my own sanity or both. You’ve got two minutes to figure that out. Go.”

Oliver pretended not to hear the directions. While everyone else ran to a best friend or scavenged the wasteland of leftover partners, he stuck to his seat. He began to sketch the layout of his trifold.

“Oliver, over here.” Mr. Carrow waved at him from a back table. “Need your help.”

Yes. His abilities were already in demand.

Mr. Carrow motioned to the only student at the table. She was Oliver’s height but way skinnier. She was a beanstalk wearing too-big wrinkled jeans, a stained T-shirt, and a facial expression that wasn’t exactly a frown but close enough. Thick brown hair that she never brushed hung in her eyes.

She was Ella Berry.

“I want you two to work together,” Mr. Carrow said.


Excerpted from "The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Matthew Landis.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
SpringPaul More than 1 year ago
Landis takes us on a grand adventure though middle school. Oliver, Ella, and Kevin are so easy to love! There are some gems in this book that made me cry and laugh out loud - when the African American teacher talks about how the Civil War affected her, most of all. I won't mention them all, because spoilers, but it was fantastic!