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She is just like me! a guest post by Kashmira Sheth

Growing up in India, my childhood was filled with tropical gardens, throat-drying summers, monsoon rains, and countless holidays throughout the year, but only six weeks of summer break. There were cows and water buffalos, and I occasionally even saw a camel or an elephant.

Water Buffaloes in India

My daughters were born and raised in the Midwest. In the fall, they made artwork with red and yellow maple leaves; in the winter, they played in the snow; in the spring, they came home from school cradling paper cups with bean plants inside. Their summer break was endless and so was their enthusiasm; swimming, playing with neighborhood children, eating ice-cream, going to parks, visiting the farmer’s market and being active in 4-H. 

Our childhoods shared one important thing though: stories. Growing up, I read books in my mother tongue, Gujarati, and also in Hindi. With my daughters, I visited libraries and picked out books that I had never read before. From school they checked out books I had never heard of. Along with them, I read Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle, Madeleine L’ Engle and L. M. Montgomery. I told them stories from the Indian epics Mahabharat and Ramayana and watched the television series. Reading and sharing stories is a joy that we still cherish. 

In school, I loved literature and read widely. Yet, I never dreamed of being an author. When I came to the United States, I studied microbiology and worked in my field for a few years. After staying home with my children and reading with them, I wanted to share my experiences as an immigrant. I didn’t want to write an essay or a non-fiction book, but rather to pour my physical and emotional journey into a work of fiction. That story became Blue Jasmine, my first middle-grade novel. Many other books followed.

Meanwhile, my daughters grew up. Their childhood remained a great source of pleasure and wonder for me. Even though my daughters were voracious readers, they didn’t come across a single story with characters that looked like them, came from a family that looked like theirs. I had witnessed their childhoods and I wanted to share their stories with my readers, through fiction. It inspired me to write about two sisters growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, just like my daughters and many of their Indian-American friends had. 

That is how Nina Soni Series was born. 

Jenn Kocsmiersky brought it alive with her amazing art!

Nina Soni is nine. She is a smart, word-defining, math-loving, idea-spouting older sister. She is also forgetful. To keep everything under control, Nina makes lists. Her little sister is six. Kavita (true to her name which means, “poetry” in Hindi) is a song maker, singer and a confident first grader. They both are second generation Indian-Americans. 

Nina’s character is inspired by my older daughter, who loves science, math and languages in equal measures. She has projects and ideas. She has plans and lists. Kavita is inspired by my younger daughter. She is confident and from the young age of four has had a passion for geography and cultures and shown remarkable empathy.

Jay’s character is drawn from some of their friends who had multiracial backgrounds. 

Even though the Nina Soni series is based on my daughters and some of their friends, Nina, Kavita, Jay and the other characters have their own quirks and personalities. I didn’t know about Nina’s in-her-head list-making (something my daughter never did) and Kavita’s singing until I started telling their story. It was amazing to discover Nina’s internal thoughts and the relationship dynamics between the two sisters. It was surprising how much Jay liked Kavita, his best friend’s younger sister. 

Writing this series has taught me to think more deeply about the writing process. Just like Nina, I have made a list about writing a series.

What I have learned by writing a series list:

* Form must be considered before you write a series. 

(Form is a framework. What’s going to be in it? The collective thought process and basic concept of the series. What topics, situations, challenges to consider in your series).

*Format, how you are going to express the form must also be clearly defined. 

(Format for Nina Soni: Form of organized kid expressed as a list-maker. Intelligence is expressed as vocabulary list or doing experiments. Kavita’s exuberance and confidence is expressed as a song-maker and singer)

* Characters have to be reliable from one book to another. 

* Characters have to be familiar, but not boring.

* They dynamics between the characters have to ring true throughout the series.

* The voice and tone have to be consistent.

* The subject matter in each book has to be relatable to the intended readers.

The fourth and the latest book in the Nina Soni series is Nina Soni, Halloween Queen. My daughters built a Spooky Pathway one Halloween when they were about Nina’s and Kavita’s ages. I still have their original invitation. I am thankful that I had saved it all these years (sometimes not cleaning can be useful)! It was so much fun to write this story and bring alive that long-ago Halloween. 

Invitation

Earlier this month I received a letter from a young reader from Pennsylvania. She had read Nina Soni, Former Best Friend, the first book in the Nina Soni series. The letter ended with, “I love the girl in you book. She is just like me!” 

Over the years I have written works from picture books to young adult novels. It has been a journey that wouldn’t have been possible without reading with my children. I appreciate all the dedicated teachers and librarians who encouraged and foster my daughters’ love of literature. Unknowingly, they were instrumental in opening up a new and fulfilling path for me too. Thank you! 

It is important to share stories that we are all part of. Each person, each family, each town, each country has a story to tell. If we fail to bring them to light, then only a few of us will be able to identify with the stories that are out there. We will lose so much of our history, our present, and our future. It is essential that each and every child has stories that they feel belong to them. 

Peter Handke said, “If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.”

When a child doesn’t see his or her life reflected in literature what do we all lose? 

It is essential for a child to read, feel, and say, “She is just like me!”

Meet the author

Kashmira Sheth writes picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult fiction. Her books have received many awards and honors and have been translated into many languages including French, Hebrew, Swedish, and Korean. Kashmira was on the faculty at Pine Manor College in the Solstice Low-Residency MFA program.

Besides the Nina Soni Chapter Book Series (4 books) from Peachtree Publishers, her most recent picture book, Feast of Peas, was published in March 2020.  

 Kashmira was born and raised in India and comes from a family of storytellers.  Although she spent several years as a scientist, her love of reading and stories nudged her into writing.  In addition to writing, she loves travel, gardening, yoga, and daydreaming.

For more information please visit her at kashmirasheth.com

About Nina Soni, Halloween Queen

Halloween hijinks reign supreme in this fourth installment of Kashmira Sheth’s series starring Nina Soni, a charming, distractible Indian-American girl, and her family and friends.

Halloween brings out Nina Soni’s competitive spirit. Her friend Jay has a great costume planned, so—of course—Nina has to come up with an even better idea. A bunch of old boxes in the basement inspires her to create an impressively scary haunted house, for which she can charge admission. So what could possibly go wrong for the Halloween Queen?

In Nina Soni, #OwnVoices author Kashmira Sheth has created an endearing heroine and charming stories of family, friendship, and her efforts to manage her life with lists, definitions, and more. A fun read for STEAM enthusiasts!

Also available:
Nina Soni, Former Best Friend
Nina Soni, Sister Fixer
Nina Soni, Master of the Garden

ISBN-13: 9781682632284
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 09/01/2021
Series: Nina Soni Series #4
Age Range: 7 – 10 Years

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