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The Not So Boring Letters of Private Nobody: 07/12/20
The Not So Boring Letters of Private Nobody by Matthew Landis opens with Oliver Prichard in school having his plans for his history project dashed to pieces. Oliver is obsessed with the Civil War and wants to profile one of the famous generals. Instead, he's been partnered with the least enthusiastic student in the classroom and their group has been assigned a private who died long before even getting to the battlefront.
I am rather split minded about this book. The protagonist comes across as toxic and rude. He's not an interestingly flawed character or a villain with a compelling backstory. He's just extremely selfish, extremely focused, and privileged enough to expect to get his way. That he doesn't get his way on this assignment is probably a rare even in his short fictional life.
But the private he and his partner are assigned is actually interesting. Both his part in the war (even with it cut short) and the methods used to learn about his life and death.
I've read plenty of other middle grade books that include a family tree project but these are usually set against a larger plot where the protagonist comes from a crunchy family situation or an unusual family. In these cases the family tree is a plot device to reveal all the protagonist's secrets at school and to make their home life even more uncomfortable.
The private that Oliver and Ella are assigned isn't part of either of their trees but researching him requires the same sorts of tools they would use (beyond family knowledge and family documentation) to research their family trees.
The bulk of the book is actually focused on their research methods. I can't think of any other book that builds a story out of genealogical research tools.