Monday, July 19, 2021

MMGM- Linked and A Shot in the Arm

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Korman, Gordon. Linked.
July 20th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Chokecherry, Colorado is a smallish town where most of the students have been together for years. There are paleontologists who have come to work on a dig that has uncovered some dinosaur remains as well as fossilized dinosaur poop, and their children are navigating middle school. When serial prankster Link, whose father is a local real estate agent who hopes to turn Chokecherry into an Orlando-like dinosaur tourist destination, gets caught putting peat moss in the dig offices, his father bans him from playing sports. Since that's the root of his popularity, he's angry, but soon there are other things to occupy his thoughts-- a swastika is painted on a school wall. Dana, whose parents work on the dig, is the only Jewish student in the school, so she is greatly affected. Told from various points of view, from seventh grade president Caroline, who wants to see more school spirit, to art club president Michael, who has a great grasp of logistics, we see how this affects the school. It's not just one swastika; there are others, from a tar one on a baseball banner to paint on the ice cream freezer. The students learn about Chokecherry's past, which includes the Night of a Thousand Flames back in the 1970s, when the Ku Klux Klan was still active. Link finds out from his mother than his grandmother is Jewish, but was given to French nuns as a very small child to keep her safe. Her entire family perished, and she only learned about her past a few years ago. Link reacts strongly to this news, and after Dana brushes off his request for assistance "on being Jewish" by telling him he should think about a bar mitzvah, he contacts a rabbi in the nearest synagogue and starts fast-tracked preparation for the coming of age ritual! After lots of class time spent learning about the Holocaust (which the students claim to get tired of, which is sadly very true to life), students feel like they need to DO something, and the idea of a paper chain, inspired by a real life school that tried to collect six million paperclips to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, takes hold. Soon, the town is in the sights of ReelTok, a TikTok star, who comes to town to make inflammatory posts and generally stir things up. Undaunted by problems with paper supply and chain storage, the project continues, and Link works tirelessly to prepare for his bar mitzvah. When the truth comes out about who painted the swastikas, how will the various characters be affected?
Strengths: There are several really brilliant things about this book. First, there are many, many places in the US that don't have diverse populations. There are towns like Chokecherry all over the US, and I imagine the populations feel that racism isn't going to really affect them... until it does. The other inspired topic, which Korman addressed in 2017's Restart, is the idea of personal identity in the teen and tween years, and how hard it can be to change once people have an opinion of what kind of person you are. Like his War Stories, Linked treats World War II in a manner that relates it more intimately to today's children. Including a TikTok star who tries to stir things up showcases how social media can have positive aspects (getting donations of paper for the chains), but also extremely negative ones. The variety of characters was interesting, and I did not see the identity of the swastika painter coming. This would make a fascinating novel for class discussions; there are not enough middle grade novels that address changing oneself and redemption. Even though the book addresses serious, timely concerns, Korman manages to work in his trademark humor. The cover and title are great. 
Weaknesses: The dig was fascinating, and I sort of wanted to know more, but there wasn't quite room in the book to investigate that topic further. Where had Dana and her family been before? Where were they going next? I know it wasn't really her story, but I wanted to know more about Dana. 
What I really think: Korman has really come into his own in the last couple of years. He's always been a fun, engaging author, but he's really kicked it up a notch by including more serious themes. I am just in awe of his forty year career!

Brown, Don. A Shot in the Arm (Big Ideas that Changed the World)
April 20th 2021 by Amulet Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Disease isn't new. Pandemics aren't new. Even vaccinations aren't new. But when you're in grade school, everything is new! (Well, except for your teachers and parents!) While COVID-19 has been such a devastating occurrence, it would be great if it lead young readers to investigate more about it, as well as the history of viruses and how they have affected society. 

Brown introduces us to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who lived in England in the late 1600s. Her society was dealing with smallpox, and we are given a good history of that disease and the treatments it inspired. When smallpox threatened her own family, she investigated an innoculation where smallpox scabs were inserted under the skin, and this seemed to be fairly effective in lessening the effects of the disease, and Montagu is credited with popularizing this defense against a devastating disease. 

We then cross the pond and deal with smallpox in the Colonies, and see how Cotton Mather ran into difficulties when he tried to help the Boston smallpox epidemic of 1721 with the treatment. The alternate approach, to inoculate with cow pox, is fully explained, and there is discussion of other vaccinations (as they are called after those experiments) as well as the push back against them. Other scientists, like Koch and Pasteur, are introduced, and protection against diseases like anthrax in farm populations is discussed. Polio gets full coverage, which is quite interesting, because I had never heard of some of the deaths related to some of the vaccines, and how people were a bit leery-- I assumed that everyone was completely behind either the shot or the oral vaccine for polio! The faulty link to autism is debunked. 

Of course, COVID-19 ends the book, so is a nice way to frame all of the previous information into something that young readers have experienced themselves. The politics surrounding the creation and distribution of the vaccine are omitted, and that's probably just as well. This current pandemic receives just an overview, which will be perfect when we are out of the throes of it. The additional timeline of virus research and brief biography of Montagu, bibliography and author's notes round out this useful graphic nonfiction book. 

In addition to being a timely resource, this is an excellent addition to readable narrative nonfiction about diseases. Jurmain's Yellow Death, Murphy's An American Plague, Davis; More Deadly Than War, Jarrow's Fatal Fever, and Murphy's Invincible Microbe are all books that are oddly enthralling, and appealing to readers with a scientific bent. 


  1. I am always looking for engaging nonfiction books for my daughter and I think I'll check out A Shot in the Arm.

  2. I've read every Korman book out except this one. Your review made some excellent points about the progression of his writing. I have this one the top of my to read list. Thanks for featuring on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

  3. I am with you on being impressed with what Korman has been writing in the past few years. His work is so much richer now. Thanks for the heads up about A Shot in the Arm (Big Ideas that Changed the World). It's now on my list.

  4. Linked sounds like a great read—it's amazing how many different spins on WWII issues authors like Korman can create, and this one sounds like a great mixture of complex and fun-to-read! A Shot in the Arm sounds like a fascinating and timely read as well. Thanks so much for the great reviews!

  5. Korman is one of my favorite authors for the middle grade set! It does sound like he's branched out a bit, because most of the stuff I've read has been funny and light. It sounds like there's a lot going on in this book. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

  6. Linked sounds like a terrific book. I will have to find a copy. I haveliked everything by Korman I have read, but this one sounds special. Thanks for telling me about it.

  7. I'm glad to hear Linked is good and it sounds like I'll (and my students) will love it! I wasn't a fan of Unteachables but love almost everything else he has written that I have read, so I will definitely get this one!