Sahara Special, by Esme Raji Codell
A.R. Level: 4.2
Recommended for middle grades
Themes: Outcasts, making friends, loving yourself
Sahara is struggling in school and at home. After a stint in Special Ed, she finds herself in the fifth grade — for the second time. And yet, inside this quiet “slow” girl, is a budding writer, full of feeling and conflict. As the story begins, Sahara writes “I am a writer” in her class journal, and her new fifth grade teacher responds with “I believe you.” Later, after Sahara has skipped more journal entries than she has completed, her teacher reminds her that “A writer writes.” The power of these two simple statements resonates throughout the book. Her teacher has no doubt that Sahara is a writer, no matter what her school “file” might say. Through a series of events, Sahara comes to realize that failure is a choice she has been making, and that she has the power to choose otherwise. When Sahara finally consents to read aloud her rendition of the class assignment “How I Got My Name,” she destroys the barriers she has created around herself, revealing to her classmates a level of pain and talent, that both touches and amazes them all.