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You've Got a Friend- How Books Can Help with Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted Learner

What do you get when you mix a book that has social and emotional plot lines with a gifted reader- a new friend! Advanced readers choose a book for a variety of reasons- they love the word choice, the action, the setting, or the mystery. What may also unknowingly engage them is the social and emotional twists that affect the main characters. According to Judith Wynn Halstead in her book, Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding the Gifted Reader, books, and conversations about them with understanding adults, can assist young readers in identifying and talking about their unique experiences as they grow up different from most of their peers.

The use of literature to enhance emotional development is referred to as bibliotherapy. Advanced readers, both those formally identified as gifted and those not so recognized, can benefit from this activity as a way to explore feelings of being different, a need for alone time, perfectionism, and other emotions they may experience as gifted learners. The discussions that occur under adult guidance, either individually or in groups, offers an opportunity for readers to discover insights into their own lives through the less intimidating lives of the characters in the story.

Before moving forward with tips for finding books that lend themselves to this practice, let’s take a look at some background information regarding it. Halstead refers to two types of bibliotherapy: clinical and developmental. In clinical bibliotherapy, discussions are led by mental health professionals encompassing more profound emotional issues. Developmental bibliotherapy, the more common type, can be found in school settings facilitated by teachers, counselors, librarians or school social workers and address normal developmental issues of adjustment and growth. This form of bibliotherapy is seen as more preventative in nature as it attempts to anticipate and meet needs before they become problematic. Halstead notes that developmental bibliotherapy is not meant as a cure but to help prevent problems. She cautions that adults should be ever vigilant that deeper problems may be present and, should they arise, be prepared to refer the individual to a mental health professional. (Please see Chapter 4 of Halstead’s book for a more in-depth discussion of the process.)

So, what aspects of a storyline make a book useful for a bibliotherapy activity for the advanced reader? In general, you would want young characters in the story who demonstrate gifted traits, whether they are identified as gifted or not. They should be seen coping with a problem that would be ripe for discussion, such as being different or finding friends. There should be young characters who stand alone (or in a small group) for their conviction, and also are accepting of others who are different.

Adult characters play a role in the process, too. There should be at least one adult character present and supportive of the youngster in the story for some portion of the story. In addition, there should be adult characters that reveal gifted traits and lead enjoyable lives so the reader sees that giftedness need not be a burden.

In recognition of the social and emotional needs of gifted readers, I would like to share my recently published book that is geared towards advanced 1st and 2nd grade readers with a readability on the 3rd - 4th grade level. Very Able, Ms. Mable takes young readers through the beginning of Second Grade with Michelle, who learns a lot about how to deal with perfectionism, working with others, and understanding themselves.

As Bill Watterson said,” Things are never as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” Books can be that friend for the gifted reader. I hope your booklover finds a few good ones!


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