The journey of a gifted reader

Before we even attempt to address the topic of gifted readers, it seems important to say this explicitly: not every gifted child is in love with reading (much as it pains me to say). 

However, for those who are (and so many of them are), the school library can be a haven — no, a HEAVEN — if some of your best friends happen to be books — where they can get their fill. There are ever-so-many books that are waiting to be read, and while the amount of time children have to read is generally more limited than during the summer, the best thing about being in the school library is that there is an actual human there who can talk to you about books and steer you towards something you might love. 

Most parents of gifted readers hit several bumpy points in the road of their child’s reading life that a librarian who knows the child well can make somewhat smoother. Here are a few of these common milestones:

1. When a child can understand (and prefers) complex reading material that is read aloud to them

This is a tricky moment because they cannot quite yet do the reading that they long to do by themselves; generally, their decoding is still too slow (it takes too long to sound out the big, long, juicy words, which are almost certainly not sight words) or they have not yet developed the stamina to do all of that cognitive work for long stretches of time. No one who has Harry Potter read aloud to them every night will also be rapt at decoding sentences like, “The cat sat on the mat”: the distance between those two experiences of books seems impossibly wide, and is a source of frustration to many gifted readers.Ms. Wurman with young gifted readers in our library.


Parents of a gifted reader at this stage should probably gird their loins for future battles of this flavor: there will likely be many more moments when their advanced capacity for abstract thought outpaces either their capability to handle the emotional impact of the ideas they are wrestling with and/or their ability to actually realize the thing they have so clearly conceived of in their busy minds.

2. When a parent cannot keep up with their child’s reading anymore to know for sure what the content is in the books they are devouring

There comes a moment when the child is definitely reading more than the adult(s) who care for them — after all, most adults either have jobs or have work in the home to take care of, while the child’s entire job is learning. Parents generally choose books that they loved when they were small, so it is highly likely that they really do know everything the child has read for a good while. That won’t last for long, especially when they get to school and have access to larger book collections. Parents may know who the Lorax and Flat Stanley are, but not necessarily who Ruby and the Booker Boys or Captain Underpants are, which can make it more difficult to talk with their child as fully about what they are reading.

A young gifted reader devouring a book in the library.

Hot tip:

Have your child re-tell one of the stories they have read back to you; not only will you be a little more conversant in what they have been reading, but your child gets a little extra practice in re-telling, which research shows can boost their expressive vocabulary and their comprehension. Warning: even a gifted reader will be terrible at creating streamlined summaries for quite a while.

3. When parents give up on purchasing books for their gifted reader

Those families who are fortunate enough to be able to purchase books for their children usually do, and in great volume. A gifted child’s appetite for novelty quickly makes that practice prohibitively expensive, however, especially if the child devours that new book in a single 20-minute sitting. It’s definitely time for the library — the public library if the child is not yet in school, of course, which may have a children’s book specialist there who can help you keep that keen mind well-fed. (Happily, the children’s librarian also addresses #2, in that he or she is likely to have actually read many of the books and knows what is in them.)

Hot tip:

While at the library, don’t forget to visit the nonfiction section (even with a young reader) to engage and stimulate an area of deep interest. We’ve discussed this topic in a recent post, For the love of nonfiction: Let your gifted readers read!. Learn how gifted students who often fall into a topic, seeking more and more information about it, exhibit the characteristic with the highest predictive value for reading comprehension according to the research. It’s not mastery of specific reading skills, but prior knowledge of the subject matter — so let them read!

4. When a student can read more sophisticated material than is appropriate for their age, developmentally

Just because you can read The Hunger Games doesn’t mean you should read The Hunger Games.

Often, like so many other things about the gifted child, there may be a very real asynchrony between their reading level and their developmental level. They will naturally seek out increasingly complex material for themselves, which is generally fine when they’re moving from the Berenstain Bears to Geronimo Stilton, but because publishers produce books aimed at an average child of a given age, the gifted child can get “stuck” when their middle- to high-school-level reading ability runs into dystopian fiction designed to appeal to preteens or teens. (Again: a librarian to the rescue! They really should wear capes.) 

What our gifted readers are reading

Now, onward — let’s tour some shelves! Here are a few of the things our gifted readers are enjoying from our school library:

Picture books

Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beatty — part of the Questioneers series, made famous after the first book, Rosie Revere, Engineer, was a smash hit. Also look for Ada Twist, Scientist; Sofia Perez, Future Prez; and Iggy Peck, Architect in this series.

Unicorns Are the Worst! by Alex Willan — This is a favorite read-aloud, as young children love the idea of knowing more than the character in the book does (like who is hiding in the woods!). 

Change Sings by Amanda Gorman — a lovely poem/song from the Youth Poet Laureate with gorgeous illustrations.

Primary Fiction (grades PreK-3)

Dog Man #10: Mothering Heights by Dav PilkeyA silly-but-fun graphic novel series that lures in reluctant readers and is immediately snatched up after it’s checked back in. And lucky you, there are 9 others for your child to dive into after this one! 

The Never Girls series by Kiki Thorpe — Many of our students love these stories of best friends who spend time in Never Land with Tinkerbell and her fairy friends. 

The Bad Guys series #13: They’re BEE-hind You! by Aaron Blabey — This is a funny and engaging series that is beloved by our early chapter book readers, and this volume was just released at the beginning of November. 

Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness by Ben Clanton —This series of books have the same mix of sweetness and sassiness that our readers love in Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie series; the main characters are both adorable and relatable — and what’s not to love about a “unicorn of the sea?” 

Middle-Grade Fiction (grades 3-8)

Big Shot: Diary of a Wimpy Kid #16 by Jeff Kinney — Parents may be really “over” the Wimpy Kid series of books at this point, but the students it’s written for don’t seem to be! When a new one comes out, we cannot keep it on our shelves, and the goal is to keep them reading, even if you think their choices are silly. Remember that while they may be able to read more complex books, they don’t have to, and reading silly books for a while (or even over and over!) is developmentally appropriate for students this age. 

Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan — The much-beloved author of the Percy Jackson series (and all of the follow-on series) has come out with a new book about kids at a specialized school for marine biology, naval engineering, and oceanography. 

Pahua and the Soul Stealer by Lori Lee — Mr. Riordan has been such a successful author that his publishing house has rewarded him with his own imprint, Rick Riordan Presents. These books are chosen by Riordan himself, who focuses on mythologies students are less likely to have encountered, such as Mayan or Mesopotamian. This new release describes a Hmong girl who can actively see spirits and what happens when she suspects one of them has gotten hold of her brother. 

Other books in the Rick Riordan Presents series have included The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim; Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia (now a trilogy, with the latest volume just out in October); Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (now a series of 4 volumes, with the 5th coming this spring); and The Storm Runner by J. C. Cervantes (now a trilogy). 

Out of My Heart by Sharon Draper — sequel to the very popular Out of My Mind, which was a Reading Olympics selection last year; we had two copies that weren’t on the shelf for months because they were moving from hand to hand so quickly. 

Young Adult Fiction (grades 9+)

Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri — a multiple-award-winning novel based on the true story of the author’s life on a long and perilous journey immigrating to the United State.s

Still Life with Tornado by A. S. King — about a talented artist teenaged girl living through a maelstrom of a family life, set in Philadelphia; part of the Upper School’s Reading Olympics list for this year. 

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang — a graphic novel by one of the best in the genre about his experience with the basketball team at the school where he works.

Primary Nonfiction

Coding Games in Scratch and Coding Projects in Scratch by Jon Woodcockfor the never-ending list of students of all ages interested in programming. 

The LEGO Ideas Book by Daniel Lipkowitz 

LEGO Minifigure: A Visual History by Daniel Lipkowtiz — These books aren’t new  releases, but LEGO books are always popular, even among students who aren’t LEGO-passionate. 

How the Sphinx Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland — I never knew how many people it took to get an artifact from and archeological dig to being on display in a museum. Who knew there were special museum workers called “riggers?” The kids in our PreK and K-1 cohorts, that’s who…. There are two other books in this same vein, too: How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum and How the Meteorite Got to the Museum, which are both on our shopping list. 

General Nonfiction

The Way Things Work Now by David Macaulay — an update to a classic that feeds curious minds; perhaps the detailed diagrams and drawings in this book will keep someone in your house from disassembling something just to see how it works?

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars — Did you know that the trees in Central Park have code numbers on them that can tell you where you are in the park if you know how to read them properly? Or why there are so many spray-painted lines on city sidewalks? Roman Mars, creator of the podcast 99% Invisible, has deconstructed and decoded all the signs and signals that crowd around us in urban spaces and that we usually miss in this fascinating book. 

Oceanology: The Secrets of the Sea, Revealed by DK Publishing and The Smithsonian Institution — This year, it seems all of our readers are fascinated with marine life of all kinds. This gorgeous book includes tons of information and dozens and dozens of unbelievable photographs to keep them enthralled. See also their just-released Micro Life: Miracles of the Miniature World, Revealed which provides a super-close up view of all kinds of things we walk by every day and may never notice. 

Natural History: The Ultimate Visual Guide to Everything on Earth by DK Publishing and The Smithsonian Institution — An update of a tremendously popular book from a decade ago that includes newly-discovered animals and creatures of all kinds, from fungi to Darwin’s finches to swarms of butterflies; it’s visually stunning and appeals to readers and curious minds of all ages. 


Common Sense Media is the leading source of entertainment and technology recommendations for families.

Dunst, C. J., Simkus, A., & Hamby, D. W. (2012). Children’s Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy Center for Early Literacy Learning 5(2). Retrieved 15 November 2021.

Recht, D. R., & Leslie, L. (1988). Effect of prior knowledge on good and poor readers’ memory of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(1), 16–20.

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