SAHARA SPECIAL

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 in our regimented, standards- and test-driven public schools. An absolutely lovely debut for children from the author of Educating Esmé (1999). (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7868-0793-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in...

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NEW KID

From the New Kid series , Vol. 1

Jordan Banks takes readers down the rabbit hole and into his mostly white prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

He may be the new kid, but as an African-American boy from Washington Heights, that stigma entails so much more than getting lost on the way to homeroom. Riverdale Academy Day School, located at the opposite end of Manhattan, is a world away, and Jordan finds himself a stranger in a foreign land, where pink clothing is called salmon, white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, and white classmates ape African-American Vernacular English to make themselves sound cool. Jordan’s a gifted artist, and his drawings blend with the narrative to give readers a full sense of his two worlds and his methods of coping with existing in between. Craft skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable.

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269120-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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