Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Time to Roll and Nina Soni, Perfect Hostess

Summer, Jamie. Time to Roll (Roll With It #2)
April 4th, 2023, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ellie's mother and her gym teacher have gotten married, and since they are going on a honeymoon, Ellie's father and her two young step brothers are staying at the trailer with her. Her grandmother and grandfather, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, have moved in the senior condo facility, Autumn Leaves. Ellie and Coralee are looking for some adventures for the summer, along with their friend, Bert, and Coralee decides that she will enter the Little Miss Boots and Bows pageant. Her grandmother drives the trio so that Coralee can sign up (and pay using the money she earned from selling stolen Girl Scout Cookies), and the pageant organizer encourages Ellie to enter as well. She doesn't think it's a good idea, but Coralee really wants her to. Ellie would rather be baking. Still, she borrows $75 from her grandmother and is soon involved with Coralee on preparations for the pageant. She is also trying to reconnect with her father, and they do some activities like fishing together. She also gets the occasional postcard from her mother. Of course, with Ellie and Coralee both in the pageant, there are bound to be some moments of contention. Will Bert be able to smoothe things over and get the friends through the summer?
Strengths: Ellie is a fun character, and it was interesting to see her navigate her new school in the first book, and to see her spend more time with her grandparents. In this book, the emphasis is more on Coralee and Bert, as well as the difficult relationship Ellie has with her father. It's also summer, so Ellie's school relationships aren't really discussed. There's still plenty of baking, and details about the challenges that Ellie has being in a wheel chair because of her cerebal palsy, but it was good to see that those challenges are just part of her daily life and not the focus of the book. The friend drama is always a good addition, and I imagine it's hard to be friends with the exuberant Coralee!
Weaknesses: Pageants are a hard sell at my school. I can't think I have ever had a student involved in one, and can't even think of any local pageants that exist. Is this more of a Southern or Oklahoma thing? Even Bert comments that pageants as a social construct are rather outdated. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for collections where Roll with It has been popular, and joins a short list of middle grade books that center around beauty pageants, like Pucket's The Glass Witch, Charles' Like Vanessa, Alpine's You Throw Like a Girl, Scott's School of Charm, and Frazier's The Other Half of My Heart

Sheth, Kashmira. Nina Soni, Perfect Hostess
April 11, 2023 by Peachtree
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Fourth grader Nina is always trying to organize her life and do the right thing, so when she finds out that her grandmother (Dadi) and cousin are coming to Wisconsin to stay for six weeks, she makes herself lists about what she can do to be the perfect hostess. Because India is warmer, her parents are putting Dadi and Montou in their room, and moving to the basement themselves. Nina offers to move in with her sister Kavita so that they don't have to do that. She makes a list of things that have to be done for guests, like cleaning, buying groceries, and making sure everyone is comfortable, and checks with her mother to see what she needs to do. It's not always easy to do the right thing, and there are times when Nina isn't exactly happy. She invites Montou to her bhangra class, and he outshines everyone, making her a little jealous. A similar thing happpens when he visits her school and does better in math than she does, even though he is younger. Montou and Kavita really hit it off, and Nina is again a little jealous. She does love spending time with Dadi, and the two cook, play games, and have long talks. Before the six weeks are up, Dadi and Montou feel like part of the family, and Kavita mentions that maybe when she grows up, she will move back to India, taking her US family back with her. Nina realizes that while her lists were helpful, the ways to make guests comfortable can't always be quantified and written down, but acting out of love makes the job a lot easier to do. 

Other books in this series include Nina Soni: Former Best Friend (2019),  Sister Fixer (2020), Master of the Garden (2021)Halloween Queen (2021), and Snow Spy (2022). 

Strengths: I love Nina and her family, and they remind me of a modern day B is for Betsy. Nina's family is busy, but there are lots of good details about how daily life goes on. There's cooking, interactions with neighbors, visits to school, homework, and lots of playing outside with neigh Jay. Family friends visit, the family travels around their hometown, and the books are just a great look into another little girl's life. I would have adored these when I was in elementray school. Having a grandparent visit for six weeks is both exciting and nerve wracking; when I was in fourth grade, my grandmother stayed with us for the summer because she was undergoing chemotherapy. I wasn't able to spend a lot of time with her, but I have a very clear memory of her teaching my how to sew quilt blocks on our back porch. This series is an absolute must purchase for any elementary school library. 
Weaknesses: These are a little young for my middle school readers, and I would love to see Sheth write a series about a student in middle school. 
What I really think: Peachtree has several fantastic realistic fiction series, like Charlie Bumpers, the slightly younger King and Kayla, and of course, Fred Bowen's fantastic sports books! These are all just the right length, and wonderfully addictive. 

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