Ideas for Learners Promoting Literacy, Inquiry, and Meaningful Learning Experiences

Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell


Book Summary

Sahara decides that school isn't working for her, so she's not going to turn in the work, or raise her hand, or be bothered with any of it. This decision means that Sahara repeats fifth grade, with a brand new teacher and group of classmates. Sahara's father left a few years ago, and she misses him. This book is about how she faces challenges - will she go it alone?

Sahara Special book cover, by Esme Raji Codell
Sahara Special

Book Review

Sahara is one of the most memorable characters in middle grade fiction. The immediacy of her concern about repeating fifth grade and dealing with peers resonates instantly with readers. Her long-term concerns about her identity, her career, and her important relationships are also easy for readers to connect with, even if they don't have quirky teachers or live in large cities.

Class Structure Recommendation: Read-Aloud (note: a couple of instances of mature language) or Independent Reading

left quotation mark

The desert is a mystery. 
To cross it, you have to be a camel.

You have to use what you have for yourself,

keep what you need inside yourself, in a big, sagging hump."

p. 159

Topics and Themes for this book:

  • Identity
  • School
  • Absent Parent
  • Quirky Teacher
  • Rebellion
  • Grade Retention
  • Social Systems and Ethics
  • Students who like Writing

Discussion Questions for this book:

The best discussion questions, of course, are generated by and contemplated by readers. These questions are designed to avoid major spoilers about the book, and to provide a starting point for teachers, parents, and student reading groups.

  1. Are there times when it is appropriate to give other people or groups new names and labels?
  2. Is Sahara a quitter, or is she right to opt out of the "file" system at her school?
  3. What purpose does Darrell's character serve in this book?
  4. Would you want to have Madame Poitier as a teacher?
  5. Do you support Sahara's mother's decisions in this book? Why?
  6. What do you have in common with Sahara? How is her life different from yours?
  7. Which character(s) do you admire most, and why? Which character frustrates you most, and why?
  8. What is the central problem in this book? How do you know?

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