Monday, July 08, 2019

MMGM- Leo Thorsness: Vietnam: Air Attack over Xuan Mai

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Spradlin, Michael. Leo Thorsness: Vietnam: Air Attack over Xuan Mai (Medal of Honor #3)
July 9th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

The Medal of Honor series covers the events that won real people the Medal of Honor. Like  Ryan Pitts Afghanistan and Jack Montgomery: World War II, and the upcoming (January 14, 2020) John Basilone: World War II: Bravery at Guadalcanal, Leo Thorsness is a well-researched, short read (144 pages) that students who enjoy books about wars gulp down! These are nonfiction, but in the vein of the Landmark Books. If you have a middle school or high school library, you MUST take a look at these biographies!

Leo Thorsness was young when World War II was being fought. He grew up on a farm, and times were tough. When he graduated, he followed in his brother's footsteps and joined the Air Force. He had a career well underway and a lot of training under his belt when he was sent to Vietnam to fly missions that destroyed Vietnam strongholds. Pilots had to fly 100 missions before being sent home, and Leo was well into the 90s when an air fight went badly wrong and he went down over enemy territory, along with several pilots from his unit. He was held prisoner in the Hanoi Hilton and endured six years or torture and deprivation before being set free. He won the medal of honor for this mission, although he didn't think he deserved it. Glad to be home after being set free, he threw himself into a life public service and wrote his own book about his experiences, Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey.

These books are brilliantly plotted. I'm usually a fan of linear narrative-- tell me about the main characters childhood, then follow a timeline through the war. However, that leads to dull stretches that young readers don't appreciate. Instead, Spradlin intersperses Thorsness' back history with the more interesting scenes of him in air battles. While I have read a lot about WWII, I must admit that it doesn't really interest me. When there are enough details about particular types of planes, weaponry and battle strategies that I get a little lost, I know that this is just the right amount of details for my readers who can't get enough about WWII.

Tying these "adventures" during war times to real individuals who were recognized for their bravery is a great way to put a face on history. Spradlin shares just enough biographical details to make us want to root for Thorsness without dragging the story down. The short length is fantastic for nonfiction, and I've had lots of students who will polish one of these off in a day! I hope that this series continues for quite some time!
Ms. Yingling


  1. This sounds like a great book for kids who like war stories, especially since it's short and well-plotted. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I hope so too! I haven't read any of these yet but you've convinced me.

  3. I haven't read many stories about Vietnam. This sounds like a great read for those who devour stories of bravery. We do need more stories for youth on Vietnam, so I'm delighted to know about this book. Like you, I would struggle with the linear. I reviewed a PB a few months back "My Grandfather's War" and was thrilled to share it. But dealt with some negative comments from Vietnam Vets (friends), which absolutely shocked me. I worked in PR for the USAF for years and all of the senior leaders at that time were Vietnam Vets -- my generation. I may check it out.

  4. I've not come across these before and hope to dive into the series this summer. Thanks for the heads up!

  5. This book sounds great! The alternating plot sounds like a useful device for the story. It's also interesting that, when a book has a few too many details for you, you know it will be perfect for your students. Thanks so much for the review!

  6. Thanks for sharing this series, Karen. I like that these books focus on real individuals -- I think it makes each story more meaningful. Going to look these up. Have a great reading week!

  7. I hadn't heard of these books. I will have to check them out. Thanks for the heads up.