Welcome classroom teachers, homeschoolers, and book clubs! I am so honored that you have taken an interest in my book, Sahara Special. Research cited in Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook suggests "students from classrooms where there were more book discussions tended to score higher in national reading assessments," so kudos to you for all you do to help children succeed on tests, and even more important, to develop a lifelong love of reading. I hope these suggested discussion questions and springboard activities will help enrich and expand your reading experience.

Keep shining,
Esmé Raji Codell

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

I. Me and Darrell Sikes

  • In what ways are Sahara and Darrell alike? In what ways are they different?
  • Why does Sahara decide she is not going to do her work in school? Do you think her decision is justified?
  • Sahara says "I was proud, really proud of my mom not being afraid of failure. I'd sooner not try than fail." What do you think this means? Why is failure so scary? Can anything be gained by failure?
    II. My True Ambition
  • Think about what you would ideally like in a best friend.What things would you do together? What things would you do for each other?What would set him/her apart from others you know? Does Rachel have these qualities?
  • Rachel says, "Everyday stuff isn't interesting stuff." Do you agree or disagree?
  • Why do you think Sahara is surprised by what she sees in the crystal ball? If you could look into a crystal ball, what do you think it would say about your future?
    III. At the Library
  • What qualities does Sahara have that make it hard for her to find friends?
    IV. New Things All The Time
  • What is Sahara's relationship to her father? How does this change her relationship with her mother?
  • Sahara laughs when the thought occurs to her, "if they kept files on grown-ups, it would be a different story, wouldn't it?" Think of a grown-up you know very well. Do you think they have anything surprising in their "file"?
  • If you could throw something away from your "file," or your history, what would it be? How do you think its absence would change who you are?
    V. We Got Her
  • Which subjects and routines that are part of Sahara's day the same as your classroom? Which are different?
  • What did Sahara write in her journal by way of introduction? Was it true?
  • Sahara and Darrell have very different opinions about Miss Pointy. Why do you think they are so different? Would you want Miss Pointy for a teacher? Why or why not?
    VI. The Lion's Lesson
  • What sort of stories does Miss Pointy like to share with her class? Why?
    VII. George Gets Busted
  • Miss Pointy says, "True things don't always happen in the world, where you can see and touch them. True things also happen in the imagination." What do you think she means?
  • Why did Darrell tell his mother that Miss Pointy called him a bad name?
    VIII. The Way Things Are Built
  • Sahara thinks it is unfair that Luz is getting stickers. Is it? Why doesn't Miss Pointy give Sahara a sticker?
  • Why doesn't Paris tell on Sahara when she steals Luz's sticker?
  • What is your definition of a hero?
    IX. Miss Pointy Gets Me Where I Live
  • What does the fact that Miss Pointy doesn't look at students records mean for Sahara?
  • What things does Sahara's mother tell Miss Pointy that Sahara doesn't really want Miss Pointy to know?
  • What do you think makes Sahara decide to finally try the assignment that Miss Pointy gave?
    X. Orphans
  • Even though Peaches has shown an interest in Sahara and Darrell, neither of them are very eager to go with her. Why?
  • Why do you suppose Miss Pointy pretended like there was a note to keep Darrell in her class?
  • What does Miss Pointy see when she looks through her X-ray specs?
    XI. Why Teachers Get Apples
  • How is Sahara different from her cousin Rachel? What future do you predict for Rachel?
  • What kind of story do you think Miss Pointy tells: a fable, a fairy tale, a pourquoi tale, or something else?
  • Sahara imagines what some of her classmates might wish for. Can you guess which character matches each wish? Pick several of your classmates and imagine their wishes.
    XII. Name Calling
  • Sahara writes, "My names are given to me, but they are also the names that I choose to take. And choosing makes all the difference." What does she mean? What names are given to you, and what names do you choose to take? Have you ever been given a name you didnšt want?
  • Why did Miss Point choose to give Sahara a flowering cactus as a gift?
  • How has Sahara changed from the beginning of the story to this point?
    XIII. Autobiographia Literaria
  • Why does Sahara identify with Frank O'Hara's poem? Why did she choose to share it with Darrell? With her mother?
  • What is different about Sahara's relationship to her father now, compared to the start of the story? Why was she able to make that change?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book? What was she trying to say to her readers?

    ACTIVITIES

    Travel Brochure
    Miss Pointy exposes her students to the landmarks of their city. Create a travel brochure or a website for the place where you live! Think about what makes your hometown unique, and which spots stand out. Illustrate with drawings or photographs.
    Sample brochures are available from the chambers of commerce from every state and country, so an alternative activity might be to plan a trip to "Somewhere Else" using this material. What is the itinerary and expenses? How long will you be gone? Helpful websites:
    http://www.theus50.com
    http://www.2chambers.com
    http://www.libraryspot.com/state/
    http://www.homeworkspot.com/features/greatstate.htm
    http://www.tripspot.com/state/
    Look for links to departments of tourism. Please note that these sites are general information and contain advertising; monitor children using the computer appropriately. Letter writing skills can be practiced by having children request materials via snail-mail. Another fun thing to do is visit a travel agent or invite one to speak in your classroom about how to plan a trip to Somewhere Else, and how to research information about other countries.

    Beezus Who?
    When cornered by Cordelia, Sahara claims to have a best friend "Beezus," who is really a character from one of her favorite books. While flesh-and-blood friends are important, book friends are handy in a pinch! Children can create portraits of their closest fictional "friend" and hold then up while they introduce the character to the class. What book is the character from? What makes the character special? Why would you want this character for a friend?

    Paper Wings
    In the last chapter, Sahara imagines the paper in her file turns into a birds and flies away. Directions for folding paper into an origami bird can be found in Spread Your Wings and Fly: An Origami Fold-and-Tell Story by Mary Chloe Schoolcraft Saunders and Origami Omnibus: Paper-Folding for Everybody by Kunihiko Kasahara. Will you write anything on the paper before turning it into a bird? Perhaps a note to a friend, like Paris sends to Sahara, or a poem, like Sahara sends to Darrell?

    So, Why Do Teachers Get Apples?
    Miss Pointy used a dream she had to come up with a story about why teachers get apples. Apple prints created by dipping apples cut in half and dipped in tempera paint can be used for attractive cover art for children's own porquoi stories about "Why Teachers Get Apples".

    Commemorate the A+ efforts of teachers with an apple festival! Details here.

    Inside Each Person, There's a Secret Person
    As Miss Pointy says, files are so easy to get your hands on! Have children create "secret files" using manila folders inside which they create collage art to express their "secret self." For a variation, children can create self-portraits on brown paper bags, and then fill the decorated bags with items that suggest things about them on the inside that people don't know by looking on the outside; an alternative activity is to let classmates fill the bag with positive affirmations (things they like about that child) that has to do with the child's insides instead of what's on the surface.

    Word Up!
    "If you hear a good word that belongs to someone else, write it down somewhere so it belongs to you, too." Spice up vocabulary and spelling up by creating word envelopes. Every day a child can be given a vocabulary word of their choice…any word that interested them, which the teacher writes on a piece of tagboard so it fits in the envelope. Let some time pass, then children can try to write a story or paragraph that includes as many of the words from the word envelope as they can!

    The Moral of the Story
    Miss Pointy was very fond of telling Aesop's fables, or stories with lessons or "morals" at the end. It's fun to read fables aloud and see what morals the children come up with. Or, start with a moral from an Aesop's fable and the children can write a fable to match. Of course, children can also write their own modern day fables! There are many great volumes of fables available (individual fables illustrated by Helen Ward, Amy Lowry Poole and Oliver J. Corwin, for example), but you may want to start by looking to these collections for inspiration:

    Fables by Arnold Lobel
    Aesop's Fables illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
    Aesop and Company: With Scenes from His Legendary Life by Barbara Bader
    Fables of Aesop illustrated by Tom Lynch
    Squids Will Be Squids by Jon Sciekzka

    Aesop's fables lend themselves to dramatizations. Paper plate masks that the children can decorate like animals make for easy and exciting costumes. Puppet shows are also a great way to perform (see How to Get Your Child to Love Reading for puppet-making hints). More help for putting Aesop in the spotlight may be found in Dramatizing Aesop's Fables by Louise Thistle.

    Make An (Almost) Personal, Private, Confidential Journal
    Having some paper and pens around is a first step to writing one's Heart Wrenching Life Story and Amazing Adventures. Of course a neat little composition notebook can be purchased in a stationery department for about a buck, but having children design their own journals may make them more invested in writing a good one. Bookmaking help can be found in:
    Making Books: Step by Step by Charlotte Stowell
    Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, And Turn by Gwen Diehn
    Look at My Book: How Kids Can Write and Illustrate Terrific Books by Loreen Leedy
    Making Mini-Books by Sherri Haab (okay, granted, these books won't hold much writing but there are lots of creative and inspiring ideas here!)
    And children can jump-start their synapses with the 150+ story starters found by clicking here.

    Good Advice
    Miss Pointy gives a lot of writing advice. What areas of expertise do your children have? Let them make a list of ten pieces of advice for anyone trying to learn their specialty.

    What Rhymes with Special?
    Poetry is a great vehicle for discovering that everyday things are, indeed, interesting things (and as Miss Pointy pointed out, they also make very fine presents). Children can go on a treasure hunt to create their own illustrated anthology or share their favorite at an open mike. Visit the PlanetEsme.com Poetry Page for details and book recommendations.

    Mind Your Cherry Tree!
    Miss Pointy told her class the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. Find out more about George Washington in George Washington's Teeth by Deborah Chandra and George Washington's Breakfast by Jean Fritz. You can also learn a funny poem to remember the names of all the presidents at the Homeschooling Zone.

    There was some confusion in Miss Pointy's class about whether George Washington's misdeed was fact or fiction. What's true and what isn't? Children can use the controversy as a cue to do some historical sleuthing, doing research to uncover the surprising truths about historical figures and eras. Grown-ups can get some interesting background knowledge by checking out Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis and Otto Bettman's The Good Old Days--They Were Terrible!. Meanwhile, kids can investigate Katherine Krull's "Lives Of" series ( Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame and What the Neighbors Thought might be a good place to start) and Scholastic's "Horrible Histories" series. Springboard into looking at the newspaper. What's fact and what's fiction? What myths might evolve from current events? What does it say about what we wish was true?

    IF YOU LIKE SAHARA SPECIAL,
    YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY THESE NOVELS:

    Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos
    A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
    Frindle by Andrew Clements
    The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
    Keep Ms. Sugarman in the Fourth Grade by Elizabeth Levy
    Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
    Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
    Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia by Barbara O'Connor
    Mind Games by Jeanne Marie Grunwell
    The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
    Best Enemies by Kathleen Leverich
    My Name is Brain Brian by Jeanne Betancourt
    Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith
    Miss Daisy by Donald Davis
    Matilda by Roald Dahl

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