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But How Do I Know It’s Good?

The dog days of summer are upon us. Traditionally, this is the time of year when a good read beckons our avid young bibliophiles to escape the heat inside the tales of an intriguing fiction (or nonfiction) book. As parents, you may be wondering how to best guide them in choosing a book that can both engage gifted readers and help them develop new skills. With the upcoming start of school, educators may also find themselves wondering the same thing as they prepare curriculum for the advanced readers on their rolls. This post will share some recommendations.

Judith Wynn Halstead, parent, teacher, and librarian, has shared her insight into quality literature to grow advanced readers. Her book, Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding the Gifted Reader, now in its third edition, has become my favorite professional tome as evidenced from the wear and tear on its pages. In the book, Halstead includes highlights of the intellectual and emotional development of the gifted reader and the part books play, a primer on reading guidance, choosing books that challenge, and an annotated bibliography of quality reads for those of preschool age through 12th grade.

In this space, I will share but the tip of the iceberg of the information in the book and focus on some of the criteria she believes most benefit gifted readers. As she reviews books and how the authors present their work through their writing style, Halstead finds books that include a great deal of figurative language resonant with the advanced reader as these learners tend to intuitively think in metaphor and analogies. Works that include advanced vocabulary allow the reader to grow intellectually by expanding the reservoir of terms from which they can express themselves, in addition to keeping them challenged and engaged in the story. Another part of writing style Halstead isolates is text that includes a variety of language patterns. Words used in other times and places require a complexity of thought as the reader tries to understand the meaning from context. Finally, an author that includes intelligent, sophisticated humor plays to a common trait of many gifted learners.

Halstead also identifies specific elements of writing that, when presented in less common ways, tend to keep gifted readers engaged. Books that use settings from places less familiar to the reader offer them more than just a story, but also an opportunity to learn about other places, cultures and times. Plot lines that include foreshadowing and flashbacks, as well as narration from other characters, will cause any reader to take an extra moment to pause and reflect on what is happening in the story. Finally, stories in which unresolved issues are presented cause the reader to look at situations from different perspectives, identify possible outcomes, and predict likely ones.

Of course, no one is advocating that in order for a book to be good for a gifted learner it must include all of the above-mentioned aspects, but this short list can help one identify a book that has the potential to engage an advanced reader. I highly recommend further reading of Halstead’s book for a more in-depth look into the topic.

Finally, I would like to announce my first novel, Very Able Ms. Mable has recently been published. With a readability level of 3rd-4th grade, the book is meant for 1st-2nd grade readers and includes advanced vocabulary and sentence structure, humor, and interwoven obstacles requiring mathematical thought. It also addresses some social and emotional needs of these young gifted learners. In my next post, we’ll discuss in detail how bibliotherapy is one way to address these needs.

Until then, I hope this helps you guide your young readers to quality literature they can enjoy along with their last days of summer.


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