Middle School/Junior High

Dogtag Summer

Written by Elizabeth Partridge

Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2011



It is the summer of 1980, and twelve-year-old Tracy—or Tuyet—is planning to hang out with her best friend Stargazer in their northern California seaside town. Stargazer is looking forward to summer, with big plans to build and launch a Viking funeral ship. Tracy, however, is somewhat unsettled. She has always felt different, back in Vietnam with her birth family and in the U.S. with her adoptive family. The Vietnam War has ripped her life apart, leaving her unmoored, and has affected all the people whom she loves. Her memories of Vietnam feel like dreams, but she remembers that the villagers called her con-lai, or "half-breed," because her father was an American G.I. and her mother was Vietnamese. Her adoptive father served in the war, but her adoptive parents are strangely secretive about her past in Vietnam.

When Tracy and Stargazer discover a soldier's dogtag hidden among her father's locked possessions, it drives a wedge in her friendship with Stargazer and shatters the surface calm of her relationship with her adoptive father. Tracy becomes increasingly haunted by dreams of her past and troubled by her place in the present. Where does she belong and who loves her? Elizabeth Partridge follows Tracy’s journey of self-discovery as she reevaluates her complicated and painful past, illuminating for modern readers the complexities of being a young adult in any time and the difficulties for Americans even today of reconciling our aspirations and our actions in the Vietnam War.



About the Author

Elizabeth Partridge grew up in a family full of artists who captured extraordinary people and American life through photographs. Her grandmother was the pioneer photographer Imogen Cunningham (who showed the beauty of everyday life), her godmother was Dorothea Lange (who wanted her photographs of down and out Americans in the 1930’s to stir others to action), and her father was Rondal Partridge (an apprentice to Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams who focused on pollution and the quirky way we live). Given her artistic family, her childhood was different from that of other children. She remembers fondly the family camping trips where her parents impulsively rounded up the family and headed out for some extended period of time in nature. She says of her childhood, “School was fairly optional, so were shoes and shirts.” Although money was often tight, her parents encouraged her to pursue her dreams

Partridge was the first woman to graduate with a degree in Women’s Studies from the University of California at Berkeley.  She then journeyed to Oxford, England to study acupuncture and was an acupuncturist for more than twenty years before closing her medical practice to write full-time.

Partridge writes fiction and nonfiction, for the youngest readers all the way up to adult readers. In her nonfiction work, she showcases intense, creative, or courageous people who have made a difference.  Her eye for selecting photographs for these nonfiction works as well as her comprehensive and incisive writing style is widely praised. In her fiction work, she often explores themes of self-identity, family, and national origin.  

Partridge has written over a dozen books to widespread acclaim, including Marching to Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary, as well as biographies of Dorothea Lange, Woody Guthrie, and John Lennon. Her books have received many honors, including National Book Award Finalist, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Michael L. Printz Honor, SCBWI Golden Kite Award, SLJ's Battle of the Books, and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award.

Today, Elizabeth Partridge is on the core faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults.

Related Links

Elizabeth Partridge’s official website, www.elizabethpartridge.com 

Pinterest Board for Dogtag Summer: https://www.pinterest.com/allysonlfeeney/dogtag-summer/

Teacher’s Guide Created by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education and Literacy, Kennesaw State University: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5244976ce4b0e1d5e9f1ac71/t/524b0bb6e4b01b933a702144/1380649910197/DogTag+Teacher%27s+Guide.pdf 



Other Books by Elizabeth Partridge

Nonfiction for Young Adults

John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2005 (Printz Honor book).

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2009 (2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for nonfiction, School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books, and the Jane Addams Award). 

This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie Viking Books for Young Readers, 2002 (National Book Award finalist and winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for nonfiction). 

Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange. Puffin Books, 1998.

Children’s Books

Annie and Bo and the Big Surprise. Puffin, 2002.

Big Cat Pepper. Bloomsbury Books, 2009.

Clara and the Hoodoo Man. Dutton Books, 1996.

Kogi’s Mysterious Journey. Dutton Juvenile, 2003.

Moon Glowing. Dutton Juvenile, 2000.Oranges on Golden Mountain. Dutton Juvenile, 2001.

Pig’s Eggs. Golden Books, 2002.

Whistling. Greenwillow, 2003.

Adult Books

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning. Chronicle Books, 2013.

Dorothea Lange—A Visual Life. Smithsonian Books, 1994.

Quizzical Eye: The Photography of Rondal Partridge. CHS Press, 2002.


Open Your Eyes: Extraordinary Experiences in Faraway Places. Viking, 2003.  

Words that Changed America: John F. Kennedy, The Inaugural Address. Viking, 2010.

Vietnam War

Bunting, Eve. The Wall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 1992 (picture book).

Burg, Ann E. All the Broken Pieces. Scholastic, 2009.

Caputo, Philip. 10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011 (nonfiction).

Collins, Suzanne. Year of the Jungle. Scholastic, 2013 (picture book).

Couloumbis, Audrey. Summer’s End. Speak, 2005.

Dowell, Frances O’Roark. Shooting the Moon. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008.

Hobbs, Valerie. Sonny’s War. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2002.

House, Silas. Eli the Good. Candlewick Press, 2009.

Huynh, Quang Nhuong. The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam. HarperCollins, 1900.   

Kadohata, Cynthia. Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Kadohata, Cynthia. A Million Shades of Gray. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010.

Kerley, Barbara. Greetings From Planet Earth. Scholastic, 2007.

Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out and Back Again. HarperCollins, 2011.

Paterson, Katherine. Park’s Quest. Lodestar Books, 1998.

Testa, Maria. Almost Forever. Candlewick Press, 2007.

White, Ellen Emerson. The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty, United States Marine Corps. Scholastic, 2002.

White, Ellen Emerson. Where Have all the Flowers Gone? The Diary of Molly MacKenzie Flaherty. Scholastic, 2002.

Other Selected War Stories

Anderson, Laurie Halse. The Impossible Knife of Memory. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Beal, Ishmael. A Long War Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Sarah Crichton Books, 2008.

Morpugo, Michael. War: Stories of Conflict. Pan Children, 2005.

Tsuchiya, Yukio. Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 1997 (picture book).




After showing students pictures of military dogtags and explaining why they are used, have students cut out replicas of a dogtag from heavy construction paper. Then, ask them to write three lines on the dogtag describing themselves. Explain how to write a haiku poem if students would like to experiment with that form of poetry on the dogtag.


As a class, compare and contrast Tracy and Stargazer’s families. Then have students think about their own family and compare it to Tracy’s and Stargazer’s families. What elements are similar and which are different?  What do they like most about their own family? Make sure to share details of Elizabeth Partridge’s family from the “About the Author” section above to enrich your classroom conversation.

The Prevalence and Symbolism of Water

Water is important to the story, appearing at numerous key moments. Have students share places in the story where water is important. Discuss what water might means as a symbol in each of these situations. Further, ask students for their thoughts on water in California today; how has the story and the drought in California affected their thinking?


Childhood Photos

Photographs give clues to the past and the people captured in them. For example, Tracy has a photograph of herself as a young child at the orphanage. Ask students to bring in photos from when they were young children. Tell them not to put their names on the back.  Make copies of the photos and pass them around, asking other students to look at the picture and write down the details they observe. Have students guess, based on their observations, who is shown in each of the pictures. If there is time, ask students to select one photo and imagine a life for the child pictured. Have them create one paragraph based on the photograph from the first person perspective. Finally, reveal the identity of each of the photographs and invite students to share their paragraphs with the class.


Lists to Bring Order and Understanding

Stargazer starts making lists when he thinks something bad is going to happen. Think about your life; is there anything that could go wrong? Create one or more lists to organize your life or explain what is going on. Alternatively, write a list poem about yourself. What did you learn about yourself as a result of writing the poem?


Summer Vacation

Unlike most students, Tracy feels somewhat empty and sad when she thinks about summer vacation. Have a classroom discussion about the best and worst aspects of summer vacation. Ask your students to imagine their ideal summer vacation and to explain what makes it ideal. Conclude by having students create their own comic strip detailing their ideal summer vacation.


Orphans and Adoption

There are many orphans in children and young adult books, but not many in real life.  Brainstorm a list of books that have an orphan as a central character. Then, discuss in which of these books the orphan was adopted. Finally, conduct a class conversation on why authors create characters that are orphans. How does the character of an orphan and/or adoption change the possibilities of the story?


For an activity, ask students to read a book with an orphan as a main character and write a short essay on how the orphan changed or grew over the course of the novel.  Alternatively, ask students to write a short story where the central character is an orphan.  After they finish the story, ask them to reflect upon the setting they selected and the characteristics they ascribed to their main character.


The Power of Photographs

Have students pull photos of the different groups in the Vietnam War: for example, protesters in the U.S., members of the U.S. government, the Vietnamese people, and the U.S. military in Vietnam. Enlarge photos for classroom viewing and ask students to analyze the elements of the photographs. In addition, ask students to select historical pictures of what they think Tracy and Stargazer might look like.


Vietnam War

Prior to your discussion of the book, have students share what they know about the Vietnam War. Then, have them share their thoughts after reading the book. Did the book change their thinking? Encourage students to share ideas of additional research they might conduct in order to better understand the Vietnam War. If you have time, divide students into research teams to learn about the topics that intrigued them. Finally, using the research they learned, conduct a classroom debate on the Vietnam War, assuming it is early in the 1960’s (the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War escalated in the 1960’s).  Have your class debate the pros and cons of the U.S. increasing its involvement in the war.


Tracy and Stargazer build a Viking funeral ship. Have students look up what such a ship looked like as well as find images of other funeral ships from earlier times. Have a class discussion on the cultural significance of funeral ships.  Conclude by bringing in materials for students to create their own small boats, either in the style of a funeral ship or any other historical style they have researched. Ask them to launch their boat outside of class--on a nearby creek or river or gutter. Finally, ask them to share their launching experiences--how hard was it to find some water in California today?


Additional Chapters

Have students imagine what happened to Tracy’s mother and grandmother after Tracy left.  Ask students to write a chapter from the perspective of Tracy’s mother or grandmother following Tracy’s departure.


2015-2016 California Young Reader Medal Resource Guide                 Dogtag Summer - page