The Barnes & Noble Review
First-time children's book author Esmè 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
In her first book for children, the author of Educating Esme: 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.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Codell has fame as a teacher, a children's literature expert, and now she is writing novels for children. Those who have read her popular Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year, will find obvious similarities in her first novel. The comparisons to the teacher, particularly, are unmistakable and sometimes feel a little self-serving. But the main character is one seldom seen in the pages of a novel. Fifth-grader Sahara Jones is a talented writer, a committed reader, but her father has left and she comforts herself by writing him a pile of unsent letters. When her schoolwork falls off and these letters are discovered, she is labeled a "special" student, which basically means she sits in the hall with a series of ineffectual teachers. Sahara's mother is furious and gets her daughter's label removed. Happily, Sahara's new teacher, Miss Pointy, is magically unconventional and refuses to read old school files or follow designated labels of past teachers. Best of all, she is patient and stubborn enough to outwait Sahara's unwillingness to learn and caring and wise enough to mend her with storytelling and the allure of stickers. 2003, Hyperion, Ages 10 to 12.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Sahara Jones finds a way out of the special-needs classroom and into the mainstream school population, where she not only learns quite a bit about herself, but also teaches others in the process. In the audio production Phylicia Rashad performs brilliantly, portraying children from a variety of backgrounds. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Sahara Jones really is Sahara Special. Although she's given the name because she receives Special Education services, it becomes a true description of the person hidden within her. Her mother recognizes these hidden depths and demands that she be removed from Special Education and given the chance to succeed or fail by her own will. Enter Miss Poitier, usually called Miss Pointy, an extraordinary new teacher who teaches "time travel," "puzzling," and other odd subjects. She challenges, probes, inspires, praises, chides, and otherwise awakens Sahara and most of her classmates. Sahara has always written in her secret journals, tearing out pages and hiding them in the back of the "900" shelves in the public library for them to be found and marveled at by some future reader. Some of her writing, especially unsent letters to her runaway father, have been confiscated and placed in an official school file. Now she has a school journal, read only by her teacher. At first terrified of writing anything that will be seen by a teacher, she spends her time really listening, soaking up the evocative vocabulary that fills every discussion, and immersing herself in the poetry that Miss Pointy provides without comment or direction. When she finally allows herself to raise her hand in class, to open herself to friendships, and most of all, to write from the heart, she recognizes that she truly is Sahara Special. Codell has created a remarkable, unforgettable cast of characters. Sahara's first-person account beautifully and poignantly captures her tenuous steps to a sense of self-understanding and maturity that is rare indeed. Oh that a teacher the likes of Miss Poitier could really survive and multiply inour regimented, standards- and test-driven public schools. An absolutely lovely debut for children from the author of Educating Esmé (1999). (Fiction. 10-14)