Gor­don Korman

By – March 17, 2022

Pow­er­house mid­dle-grade writer Gor­don Kor­man turns his atten­tion to the trou­bling issue of anti­semitism, which has been appear­ing more and more fre­quent­ly in the dai­ly news. It is a sub­ject that mid­dle school read­ers cur­rent­ly need to address by read­ing about as well as by dis­cussing the issue with their par­ents and teach­ers. This book may help ini­ti­ate such discussions.

Pro­tag­o­nist Linc, his friends, and his fam­i­ly live in a qui­et, most­ly serene town, the claim to fame of which has been the dis­cov­ery of pre­his­toric dinosaur tracks, until now. Now every­one is in shock to find that some­one has van­dal­ized the local school with a huge paint­ed swasti­ka. Mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty, both adults and chil­dren, are quick both to sus­pect and defend one anoth­er. They decide to take action.

The prin­ci­pal ini­ti­ates a tol­er­ance edu­ca­tion” pro­gram, and the stu­dent coun­cil, inspired by the famous Six Mil­lion Paper Clips” project in Ten­nessee, decides to begin a project of its own: con­struc­tion of a huge paper chain made of six mil­lion links to hang on the walls of the school build­ing. Linc becomes involved in this endeav­or and also befriends Dana, the daugh­ter of the only Jew­ish fam­i­ly in town.

Being a part of an enthu­si­as­tic school ini­tia­tive, get­ting to know Dana, and find­ing out some pre­vi­ous­ly unknown infor­ma­tion about his own fam­i­ly back­ground cause Linc to change, grow, and con­front inter­est­ing and ugly truths about him­self and the world around him. He learns about fam­i­ly and world his­to­ry, as well as per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, and he strug­gles to fig­ure out where he fits into the larg­er pic­ture of the many truths he begins to absorb. He also begins to under­stand some of the uses, and espe­cial­ly the abus­es, of media, a par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant issue for young read­ers to exam­ine and explore.

Inter­est­ing, provoca­tive, and worth read­ing, the sto­ry may have been even more pow­er­ful had the orig­i­nal swasti­ka been drawn by an anti­se­mit­ic townsper­son. The town’s Ku Klux Klan’s his­to­ry, pre­vi­ous­ly only rumored, is exposed. There is much to learn and dis­cuss here, and the sto­ry ends on a note of pos­i­tive action and emo­tion­al growth. An author’s note explains more about the renowned Ten­nessee paper clip project and pro­vides some use­ful inter­net links, which will help read­ers learn more about racism and the Holocaust.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions

Linked by Gor­don Kor­man is a sto­ry about a small Amer­i­can town, where there’s just one Jew­ish girl in the school. The main trou­ble in town comes from the feud­ing between the local kids and the chil­dren of the sci­en­tists work­ing the near­by fos­sil dig site, often result­ing in pranks and name-call­ing. But that changes when a large swasti­ka appears on a wall in the school. Sud­den­ly, the town, the kids, and their par­ents all have to con­front the ugli­ness not just paint­ed on the wall, but in their own past. Rumors of the town’s hate­ful his­to­ry start to swirl as more swastikas appear, and the mys­tery of who’s paint­ing them keeps every­one (the read­er includ­ed) guess­ing. In an attempt to fight the hate, and inspired by the real-life paper­clip project of Whitwell, Ten­nessee, the chil­dren decide to cre­ate a paper chain with a link for each life lost dur­ing the Holo­caust, but that’s eas­i­er said than done. The sto­ry is told from many diverse points of view and art­ful­ly links their var­i­ous per­spec­tives, feel­ings, and moti­va­tions, show­ing that hid­ing the ugly parts of his­to­ry nev­er works, and that we’re stronger when we all con­front those parts together.