Monday, November 02, 2020

MMGM-- Serena Says

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Davis, Tanita S. Serena Says
November 3rd 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Serena and JC have been best friends for a long time, so it's hard for Serena when JC undergoes a kidney transplant and has to be in the hospital. The fact that she will also be out of school for a while is made a little better by the fact that Serena gets to visit and bear all the news from school, but when she gets a cold, Lani is sent instead. When Serena gets upset and bows out of being a school ambassador, she is "voluntold" to be on the student senate, where she must work with Harrison, who calls her "Hobbit" because she is so short. There is also a group project on Ancient Egypt in social studies that takes up a lot of time. When JC finally comes back to school, it's clear that Lani is her preferred friend. The two dress up together for twin day, hang out together without telling Serena, and even keep Serena out of the loop when it comes to JC's health. Desperate to get back into her friend's good graces, Serena tells JC a secret about Harrison's family. Luckily, while Harrison isn't pleased, he is understanding and continues to work with Serena. The big project is Red Ribbon Week, and the two put together a roster of events for the school. Winter Fest is also coming up, and Serena has to find a project of her own to do now that JC is working with Lani. Serena has been working on a vlog about middle school that her older sister Fallon is going to let her upload to her channel, but vlogging is harder than Serena thought it would be, and she struggles to use it to make sense of her ever changing world. She isn't sure that the world wants to hear her story, but she needs to tell it. Will Serena be able to figure out 6th grade, and 6th grade friendships?
2207431Strengths: Serena's experience of middle school is so absolutely typical. Friend drama, groups projects (I agree; they are the worst! Understand why they're assigned, but not my favorite!), family issues, all delivered in Davis' straight forward, perfectly on point style. She should give master classes on how to craft a novel that addresses concerns specific to Black students while working in general middle school experiences and keeping the tone generally upbeat. My suburban Black students often don't feel their experiences are reflected in books set in the inner city. My favorite part was the fact that we don't see very much about JC's kidney transplant; it happens, it's serious, but this book is about how that operation impacts Serena's world. There are a lot of nice moments when characters are kind to each other; Fallon can be an annoying sister but is ultimately supportive; Serena and Harrison have some difficult moments but are able to come to an understanding; Serena acts as an advocate for a group member who is going to lose points for misbehavior and asks for an additional project that speaks to his strengths; JC and Lani aren't mean. A very enjoyable book with a nice mix of ordinary problems and every day activities.
Weaknesses: Is vlogging really a thing tweens do? I don't have any tweens handy to ask, and when I looked up some book tubers... let's just say that I ham not a fan of YouTube and podcasts, and if you can't tell me about a book in under four minutes, I have no patience. Also don't quite get Instagram.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Friend drama is always in demand, and this cover is so appealing. It makes me happy that it looks a little bit like one of my favorites, 2008 A La Carte!

This doesn't come out until next week, but the cover goes so well with Serena Says!

48693778Albee, Sarah. Accidental Archaeologists: Chance Discoveries That Changed the World
November 10th 2020 by Scholastic Nonfiction
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

"Dumb luck and happy accidents." Certainly, a lot of archaeological findings are due to that combination of events, and I love that Albee points out that while history doesn't change, our understanding of it can change when new discoveries are unearthed that shed a new light on our understanding. There are over fifteen different sites explored, some famous (like the caves of Lascaux or Pompeii) and some less known (bog burials and caves in South Africa). These are scattered around the world, so give a nice global feel to this exploration of archaeology.

Working from the E ARC made it hard to go back and get specific details; pages turned a bit slowly and I forgot to take notes.

I really appreciated that the discoveries were arranged in chronological order. This highlighted the changes in practices and technologies very nicely. In college, I knew a lot of archaeology majors and took a number of classes in the field, and reading about the practices before the mid 1900s was horrifying! What more might we know about Egypt if tombs hadn't been looted? The technologies are also really interesting; even thirty years ago, there weren't as many computer related systems to uncover things.

Each chapter is laid out in more or less the same fashion, which is quite helpful. The circumstances under which the find was made, extensive history about the people and cultures responsible, side bars about additional information, continued information about the excavation of the artifacts, and the impact that their discovery has had on the understanding of their time period. This would be a great resource for students who want to discover a topic they can research further.

There are plenty of maps, photographs, and some vintage illustrations to add interest to the book. Terms are explained, and the book begins with a short discussion about archaeology. The bibliography is impressive! One odd thing I enjoy about these Scholastic Nonfiction titles is that the books are the size of novels (this one is 5.5 x 8.2 inches); for some reason, my students don't want to haul larger books around with them.

I have just one small quibble. Those archaeologists I hung out with in college? Not a single one working in the field today. Job prospects in Classical archaeology were bad thirty years ago, and I can't believe they have improved. I would NEVER encourage a student to go into archaeology, even though it is awesome. The opportunities for unemployment are endless! (And yes, Charlotte's Library might disagree with me, but I'm still bitter about the fact that I do not teach Latin any more!)


  1. Two great books today Karen. I love good nonfiction texts, but am not sure about the small format in this one here. Maybe it's just that my eyes are old and prefer the space and print size in the picture book sized ones.

  2. Ooh, Serena Says really does look a lot like A La Carte! I've been seeing the cover and I appreciate learning more about the book. And yes, my daughter has so many video logs with her friends. They pass them back and forth and sometimes they're extremely loooooong. Even my family has gotten me on an app called Marco Polo where we all pass around vlogs to one another, talking about what's going on. Some vlogs are longer than others. And if I forget to log in for a few days, I shouldn't be surprised if I have an hour of messages to listen to. But at least they have an option to 2x the video (which makes them sound like chipmunks, but I can still understand what they're saying). It's especially bad when I got put on an extended family group with probably 15 to 20 people. Yikes! Whatever happened to writing letters? LOL Have a wonderful reading week, Karen!

  3. Serena Says sounds excellent—I like that it represents Black readers who have been unrepresented in most books previously. Accidental Archaeologists sounds great as well! Thanks for the great post!

  4. I am definitely going to check out both these books featured today... As far as vlogging, while I am still not sure how to go about it, based on my two teens, it is a thing certainly... :)