cover image SAHARA SPECIAL


Esme Raji Codell, . . Hyperion, $15.99 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0793-2

In her first book for children, the author of Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year shows a keen understanding of classroom dynamics, a finely tuned ear for preadolescent voices and a lively, original wit. Her feisty narrator, Sahara Jones, does none of her schoolwork even though she loves to read and writes in secret—she's been traumatized by her father's abandonment. Her classmates call her Sahara Special because she has to work with the special-needs teacher out in the hall along with the disruptive Darrell Sikes. When Sahara's mother objects to the arrangement, Sahara is held back to repeat the fifth grade; Sahara is thrilled to transfer from the land of "special dumb" to the realm of "normal dumb." Her new fifth-grade teacher, Madame Poitier, better known as Miss Pointy, is dedicated but irreverent, and not easily categorized ("She was pale, but I couldn't tell for sure if she was white or Asian or Puerto Rican, or maybe light-skinned black," observes the narrator. Miss Pointy wins her students' trust and manages to instill in them hope and confidence; while the outcome can be predicted, Miss Pointy's methods (and Sahara's responses) are full of surprises. Presenting memorable characters in spirited scenes, this novel will surely be empowering for reluctant learners—and thought-provoking and gratifying for everyone. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)