Monday, September 12, 2011

Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell

Overview from Barnes and Noble:
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: Miss Pointy. From her eggplant-colored lipstick to the strange subjects she teaches, like "Puzzling" and "Time Travel," she is like no other teacher Sahara has ever known. With Miss Pointy's help, Sahara just might find a way to redefine special for herself. The latest chapter in her book unfolds when her mother insists that she be taken out of special Ed. So Sahara is facing fifth grade in the regular classroom, again. But why even try to do the work, Sahara wonders, if everything just winds up in the counselor's file? Enter Miss Pointy, the new fifth-grade teacher. With her eggplant-colored lipstick, and strange subjects such as "Puzzling" and "Time Travel," she's like no other teacher Sahara has ever known. Through Miss Pointy's unusual teaching, storytelling, and quiet support, Sahara finds the courage to overcome her fears and prove which file shows her true self.

My thoughts:
I listened to this book on audio with my children in the car.  It is read by Phylicia Rashad who took me back in time a bit to the Cosby Show.  I considered trying to tell my children how I used to watch a TV show she was on, but thought it might take too much time.  I almost turned this story off soon after we started it because of some questionable words, but I am glad we stuck with it.  Part of me wanted to give it a chance and the other part knew we had a longish drive ahead of us and it was the only audio book I had brought along.

Sahara has stopped doing any work at school because she doesn't want the school counselor to have anything else to put in her file but on her own she is writing her life story and hiding it in a little used section of the public library.  Getting a new teacher who doesn't read files and doesn't put limits on her students is the best thing that could have happened to Sahara and her classmates.  She grows and changes so much through the story, and as with a lot of growth, it isn't always easy or painless.

I loved how Miss Pointy had her students write in journals every day.  I recall a seventh grade teacher I had who had us keep a manilla folder with paper and we were given regular time to write, sometimes on a prompt and others on whatever we wanted to write.  I loved that time and I really think it helped me to grow and understand myself better.  It was a school year where I really felt like the future was open before me and possibilities were there, and that is what Sahara comes away with.  She also comes to see herself as special as a person and not in having special needs that need individualized attention in the classroom.  For children I think it shows that having belief in yourself can change things that you think are set in stone, sometimes it is our own inner critic that is keeping us from moving ahead.

•Pub. Date: September 2004
•Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
•Format: Paperback , 192pp
•Age Range: 8 to 12
•ISBN-13: 9780786816118
•ISBN: 0786816112

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