cover image SAHARA SPECIAL


Esme Raji Codell, , read by Phylicia Rashad. . Listening Library, $18 (, unabridged, two cassettes, 3.5 hrs., $18 ISBN p) ISBN 978-0-8072-1720-7

Rashad brings humor, poignancy and a dash of sass to her interpretation of Codell's debut novel about a talented but drifting student who finally has her eyes opened by an unorthodox teacher. Sahara Jones lands herself a spot in the Special Needs group at school when she proves uncooperative, and a teacher confiscates a stack of letters Sahara has penned to her absentee father.

Being dubbed "Sahara Special" by other students makes things even worse ("Don't think they meant special like a princess or a movie star or something sparkly like that," she cautions). Sahara eventually gains a reprieve from Special Ed, but she must repeat the fifth grade, beginning a new school year with a chip on her shoulder and plenty of insecurity. Enter Madame Poitier (aka Miss Pointy) the supportive teacher who is all cool confidence and who helps Sahara to ease her hurt and find her footing as a writer and storyteller. Though Rashad occasionally over-reaches for a childlike tone, her portrayal of the funny and welcoming Miss Pointy helps the actress go to the head of the class. Ages 8-12. (July)