Book: Sahara Special

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Sahara Special

Author: Esmé Raji Codell
Publisher: Hyperion

Sahara Jones is going into fifth grade-again. Although she won’t be “Sahara Special” anymore (special needs, that is), she doesn’t expect this year to be any better than last year.

Fifth grade is going to be different, though, because Sahara’s class is getting a new teacher. With her eggplant-colored lipstick and strange subjects such as “Puzzling” and “Time Travel,” Miss Pointy is like no other teacher Sahara has ever known. With her help, Sahara just might find a way to redefine special for herself.


Esmé Raji Codell, author of the bestselling Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year, makes her children’s book debut with the warm, funny novel Sahara Special. “Can’t a woman get a divorce without her kid going special ed on her?” This is the question Sahara’s mother asks her daughter after a huge stack of letters that she’d written to her dad (but never mailed) falls out of her locker and on to her teacher’s feet. When those letters are confiscated and locked up in the school counselor’s filing cabinet, Sahara decides she will stop supplying “evidence” to the school; she stops doing her assignments, and is subsequently paired up with a Special Needs teacher, a fate equivalent to being “the street person of a school.” What no one knows is that the newly dubbed “Sahara Special” is really “Sahara Jones, Secret Writer,” a girl who hides her Heart-Wrenching Life Story and Amazing Adventures behind a public library shelf. No one, that is, until her show-stealing, deliciously unorthodox fifth-grade teacher Madame Poitier (Miss Pointy) arrives on the scene to remind her, so simply, that “a writer writes.” Any child with a secret self (every child) will revel in Sahara’s clear-sighted observations and sense of humor about a world that doesn’t see who she really is. As in Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, readers will meet a likeable, difficult-at-first student and an extraordinary teacher who transforms lives by sharing her love of story and words. Highly recommended. (Ages 9 to 11) —Karin Snelson

Barnes and Noble

First-time children’s book author Esmé Raji Codell delivers an uplifting tale of one girl’s discovery of her inner talent with the aid of a remarkable teacher.

When a self-conscious and quiet Sahara Jones gets put into Special Needs class, she gets dubbed “Sahara Special.” Thankfully, her mom insists that she be put with the other kids, and Sahara winds up with Madame Poitier, or “Miss Pointy,” as her teacher. Miss Pointy exposes her class to eccentric subjects like Puzzling and Mad Science, talks one-on-one to students through class journals and notes, and treats her students with respect and fairness. Slowly, Sahara begins to feel like a talented human being as Miss Pointy encourages her to tap into her writing talent, and when Sahara receives a personal gift, she feels extra-special indeed.

Quiet and gentle, with an underlying sense of power—a reflection of the main character herself—Codell’s novel is an inspiring read that will touch readers’ spirits. Audiences will be entranced by the author’s almost magical storytelling, while budding writers in particular will be encouraged by Sahara’s inner shine. An excellent read that will speak to kids, parents, and especially teachers. —Matt Warner

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