Gifted learners who are avid readers tend to read not only for the simple joy of it but to cope in a world that does not understand giftedness and is sometimes openly hostile to the intellectually gifted. These students read to overcome the boredom of an unchallenging curriculum and to satisfy their curiosity. But however gifted they may be, they still need guidance in making suitable, interesting, challenging reading choices, just as other students do. So, where can we turn to provide high-quality literature for gifted readers?
The verbal characteristics of gifted children provide the first clue. In Some of My Best Friends Are Books, second edition (Great Potential Press, 2002), Judith Wynn Halsted points out that these children
- have large, advanced vocabularies and are able to use them correctly;
- may be self-taught, but in any event read early, enthusiastically, and widely, often above grade level;
- select reading material purposefully and enjoy challenging books;
- understand language subtleties, use language for humor, write words and sentences early, and produce superior creative writing (poetry, stories, plays); and
- display verbal ability in self-expression, descriptive phrasing, and ease in learning a second language.
It follows that gifted readers want to read fiction and nonfiction that correspond to these characteristics.
Halsted has also identified certain characteristics of books that appeal to and are appropriate for gifted readers. Such books should
- use advanced plot structures, syntax, and vocabulary;
- include supplemental materials, such as pronunciation guides, maps, and glossaries;
- use a full array of literary devices and descriptive words that stimulate strong visual images and express nuances;
- possess language patterns and vocabularies typical not only of the present but of other times and places as well;
- provide settings that evoke an experience of other lifestyles; and
- present unresolved problems and compel the reader to draw some conclusions.
These characteristics suggest literature of a high standard, and a first response might be to turn to the classics. But these books do not deal with contemporary issues and the interests of adolescents. Additionally, these young readers have not had the life experiences to appreciate these literary treasures fully. Introducing the classics too early can turn adolescent readers off to them and kill their joy of reading.
My work with these readers shows that contemporary young adult (YA) literature matches the attributes of books for gifted learners to the characteristics of such learners almost perfectly. The genre of YA literature is a rich, ready-made resource.
In Reading Their World: The Young Adult Novel in the Classroom, second edition (Boynton/Cook, 2000), Virginia R. Monseau and Gary M. Salvner list several elements reflected in YA literature:
- complex characters who seek to resolve conflicts of tremendous consequence to themselves and the world;
- vividly drawn minor characters who provide texture, advance the plot, and serve as meaningful foils and allies for the protagonists;
- rich settings, both real and imaginary;
- deft pacing, skillful use of suspense, flashbacks, and other manipulations of time sequence;
- narratives told from various points of view; and
- thematic issues that matter not only to teens but to everyone, such as the quest for justice, the savagery of war, and the struggle of achieving love, acceptance, and understanding.
In short, YA literature possesses elements found in all great literature and, since it speaks to the concerns of gifted students, is highly appropriate for them. By drawing on this genre, parents and teachers can guide their children and students to more complex works, expose them to positive reading experiences, and open up to them a wonderful resource that will further their emotional and social development.
— Robert Seney, EdD
Robert Seney is professor of education in gifted studies at the Mississippi University for Women and director of the Mississippi Governor’s School. He has extensive experience in young adult literature and presents at conferences and in-services for teachers and parents on this genre. He teaches a graduate-level course in reading for the gifted adolescent.
Seney’s All-Time Favorites
- Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson (e/ms)
- Dogsong, by Gary Paulsen (ms/hs)
- Fade, by Robert Cormier (hs)
- Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry (e/ms)
- Interstellar Pig, by William Sleator (e/ms)
- Salamandastron, by Brian Jacques (e/ms)
- A Solitary Blue, by Cynthia Voigt (ms/hs)
- The Van Gogh Café, by Cynthia Rylant (ms)
- Welcome to the Ark, by Stephanie S. Tolan (ms/hs)
- What Child Is This? by Caroline B. Cooney (ms/hs)
Seney’s Best Reads of 2003
- Abhorsen, by Garth Nix (ms/hs)
- The Angel’s Command, by Brian Jacques (e/ms)
- The Glass Café, by Gary Paulsen (ms)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling (e/ms)
- The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer (Newbery Honor and Printz Honor) (ms/hs)
- Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff (Newbery Honor) (e/ms)
- Postcards from No Man’s Land, by Aidan Chambers (Michael Printz Medal) (hs)
- Ruby Holler, by Sharon Creech (e)
- The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, by Ann Brashares (ms/hs)
- Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan (Newbery Honor) (e/ms)