Helping gifted and talented students choose appropriate reading materials is a tricky road; gifted children tend to read voraciously and at high levels.
These reading habits are understandable characteristics of giftedness; gifted children are cognitively more developed than is normally expected. However, gifted readers need guidance in book selection. A child reading at a college level is not necessarily ready for college material. Just because a ten year old can comprehend Anne Rice's writing does not mean that a ten year old is ready to meet the Vampire Lestat.
This, then, becomes the difficulty for parents. Students of all reading abilities tend to enjoy books about people slightly older than they are, so a ten year old will relate to and be interested in books about thirteen year olds more than books about twenty year olds. Finding books written at a high interest high ability level requires time and work.
Choosing BooksDoing an advanced book search at Amazon.com and highlighting the appropriate age range is one tool. Amazon also provides book reviews, and reading those reviews is an excellent start. The reviews are usually written by adults, but sometimes there are child reviews. If there are no child reviews, beware: this is not a book for children.
Sorting through reviews can be time consuming, and teen readers can finish books and return them to the public library before their parents see them. Reading the back of the book or the book jacket yields a lot of information, as does flipping through. However, the best approach is just to ask your child one question, “If this book was a movie, what would you rate it?”
Whatever the answer – even the safe “G” rating – should be followed up with discussion. This widens those narrowing lines of communication, gives parents insight into their children, and helps promote communication skills in general.
High Ability ReadersJust because a child is involved in a higher-level book does not mean it should be taken away, of course. Knowing that a child is reading a book with death, violence, or illicit activities means that parents need to read the book, too. If that is not possible – and it often is not – parents need to open the door for conversations. Children may leave books with inaccurate perceptions, and it is not unheard of for children to have nightmares from the frightening book they fell asleep reading.
Sometimes gifted children need to hear, “We'll put this book up until your life experience catches up to your reading level.” When parents say that, they need to drive directly to the library or bookstore and find a book that is of the appropriate interest level. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Series is more a more appropriate vampire series than Interview with a Vampire or Dracula.
Parents as ReadersParents should not discount non-fiction as a reading choice. Adults have a blend of non-fiction and fiction reading; children tend to read non-fiction books as assignments and fiction as free choice reading. Parents may want to share their own reading choices, not as material to be read, but as examples of genre. If parents are reading National Geographic, then National Geographic Kids is an obvious connection for children. Teachers can use parent newsletters to help keep parents up to date on books.
Often non-fiction, especially historical readings, are often as fascinating as historical fiction without the elevated drama that requires some life experience to appreciate. Helping gifted children pick out appropriate reading materials helps keep them in common experience with their peers and helps preserve childhood a little longer, which are admirable goals in themselves.
Originally posted on Suite101 on July 15th, 2008
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Ally Sharp is a teacher, writer and editor, and technology trainer.