Choosing Books for Gifted Readers

Some advice with the difficult task of finding appropriate books for children reading well above their age

The following come from three messages on the Internet. I have extracted the information about Judith Halstead from a message by Tim Welch (thanks Tim), and following this is a reply that my wife, Kerry, made to an inquiry in a Compuserve forum about finding good books for children who are gifted readers, and at the end some recommended websites recommended . I hope they are of value.,/p.

A book called Some of my best friends are books: Guiding gifted readers from preschool to high school" by Judith Wyn Halsted (1986 Ohio Psychology Press) has been strongly recommended.

The book addresses the enlarged rational and emotional needs of gifted children and how these can be met using "bibliotherapy" with a range of literature. Tim noted anonline article by the author on her thinking.

Quoting Tim directly: "She divides book lists into age groups, offering suggested questions along with a summary of important points in the story relevant to exploring issues such "uniqueness", "aloneness", "drive to understand" etc. Many of the books are available in our local library."

Here is Kerry's reply to an inquiry to such a question:

"We faced the same difficulty with our son. At the time I was actually completing a degree in English Lit so took a couple of courses on Kids' Lit - partly to get ideas! Since then, I've been reading whatever I could on the subject.

It all depends on your son's interests. The mythology and folk tales of different countries (remember to check the adults' section as well) interested our son for a while. Then he/we discovered ancient Greek myths - initially in the versions written for older children. This is an ongoing interest for our son as his pet love is now history (especially military history) so eg Rosemary Sutcliffe has written some great stories especially about late Roman Britain.

Many gifted kids love fantasies and there are some great series. Brian Jacques' Redwall series comes to mind, Tolkien, Susan Cooper and Ursula Le Guin. The latter is intended for young adolescents, but at 6 our son read it, loved it, and read it again and again. I'm sure there's more for him to come back to, later. Perhaps that best sums up what you should look for - something with depth and allusions - that isn't a simple tale. Some good writing even for very young kids can satisfy the same gifted reader who also enjoys an adult thriller.

Which brings me to what you can do. Look at a book like Maurice Saxby's Give Them Wings (the textbook for my first kids' lit course) - which talks about what makes for quality writing and discusses/recommends many authors and books. (This is an Australian book, you might want to look for an equivalent in UK.) My next step was to start reading in the children's and young adults' section of the library and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed what I found there.

A good children's bookshop should be able to help too. In Richmond, Surrey, the Lion and The Unicorn Bookshop is great I think.

At first I used to look especially for books intended for the "reading age" of our son. Now I don't worry about that. Just look for good lit in the subject areas that interest him. Our son is nearly 10 now and I am more comfortable with him reading even books that include adolescent relationships - he seems to be able to handle & even enjoy those areas that previously I tried to avoid.

All this, of course, is considering fiction. Most gifted kids also enjoy reading non-fiction (from children's and adults' sections of the library) in certain subject areas. For a while there our son would be borrowing books like Great Dictators of the 20th Century as well as the Asterix books (which require quite a mature sense of humour).

In Australia we joined the Children's Book Council which has afternoons eg "meet the authors" as well as Bookshows where you can go, browse the books & talk to the publishers.

I hope this helps and doesn't overwhelm you. If you let me know your son's interests I might be able to help with some authors - because we've been through a few "fads" in the last few years.

Cheers from Kerry in Sydney"

Finally from a message on the OG list comes four recommended websites: