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Using Bibliotherapy with Gifted Children


Hopefully we’ve all had that experience of reading a book that powerfully “spoke” to us, a book whose characters we could relate to, and whose struggles and triumphs we identified with. Taking this experience a step farther is the strategy of bibliotherapy, the process of helping the reader learn about and cope with any social or emotional struggles or developmental needs by identifying with a character in a book who shares a similar struggle or need. The reading is typically followed up by discussion with a trusted adult.

Bibliotherapy of course can be done with all students, particularly students who might be experiencing a divorce in the family, a learning disability, adoption, etc. Today I want to talk a bit about using developmental bibliotherapy specifically with gifted students. A fair amount has been written already (see links at the bottom of this post) about what bibliotherapy is and why it's important to do with gifted students. Essentially, by having gifted students read literature and/or biographies featuring gifted children or adults, the students can gain insights into their own giftedness. Through bibliotherapeutic reading, the gifted kids are presented with ideas for how to cope with some of the struggles they encounter because they are gifted. These struggles can include trouble finding meaningful friendships, existential depression, dealing with high expectations (whether internal or external), and being a unique learner when most around them don’t learn as they do.

In addition to helping them learn new strategies for dealing with their various social and emotional issues, bibliotherapy with gifted kids can help them to better understand themselves, their sensitivity, and their quirks. It can allow them to learn about themselves vicariously and to know that they're not alone, that others have - and have had - the same concerns or problems. It can expose them to new ways of thinking about and seeing the world around them. And it can help them gain insight into themselves by connecting with or identifying with a character in a book who is similar to them or who has similar obstacles to overcome.

The reality is that gifted kids don't always have everything going for them, despite what others may mis-perceive about them in that regard. They're certainly not all in need of clinical therapy, either, but - as I point out to the parents of my students - raising (or teaching) a gifted child is usually not the cakewalk that everyone else assumes it to be... because they come packaged with all these worries, sensitivities, quirks, and surprises, together with their unique intelligence. (I've had parents' eyes tear up when I say that to them... It's often their first acknowledgement from someone outside the family that raising their gifted child is far more of a challenge than others realize.)

My angle today is to offer a concrete example of how I'm using this strategy with my students, with the aim of perhaps giving the rest of you some ideas for how to use this strategy with your own gifted students or children.

There are certainly millions of books out there that gifted kids would love reading, but I know that "just any ol' book" wouldn't qualify for the purpose I have in mind. So I set some criteria for creating a booklist for this lesson:

First, in my case I am doing this with my 5th and 6th graders, so criteria #1 is that the content of the books has to be appropriate for them. While on my hunt for books to add to the list, I came across many that would be excellent to use in this way with older gifted kids, but I didn't feel comfortable putting them on the list for my 5th & 6th graders.

Secondly, I wanted books with a reading level of about 5th grade or higher, preferably higher if possible. Most of my 5th & 6th graders read on a high school level and I want the vocabulary and sentence structure to be challenging enough for them. [Yet, as any parent or teacher of a gifted child can tell you, getting criteria #1 and criteria #2 here to mesh together is not always easy!]

Third, I wanted books that have at least one main character who is relatively obviously gifted AND their giftedness is a relevant factor in the storyline. Again, I eliminated many otherwise-awesome books as candidates for the list because they didn't meet this criteria. But I stuck to it because what I have in mind for the students to do with their books wouldn't be nearly so relevant or even possible if the book didn't match this criteria. The exploration of giftedness (or some of its concomitant issues) had to be a factor of the book.

And fourth, I wanted a variety of books on the list, to meet the varying interests of my students. So some of them have a boy main character, some have a girl main character. Some are historical fiction, some are realistic fiction, some are science fiction, some are biographies, some are poetry, some are first-person accounts of real-life events, some are non-fiction, some are mysteries, and together they feature main characters from a variety of cultural and economic backgrounds, as well as different periods in time.

The kids have read through the list of books and each has chosen which book he or she wants to read. And I have given the kids bookmarks to use that have the following questions on them:

* Who in the book do you identify with and why?
* What situations/events/problems do you identify with and why?
* Do you agree or disagree with the significant decisions the main character(s) made? Why?
* How did being gifted impact the character's life? (in positive and/or negative ways)
* In what ways was the character gifted? How did you know he or she was gifted? (i.e. What, to you, were the identifiable characteristics?)
* What do you think are the messages the author is trying to send with this book? (Or: What do you think was the author's purpose for writing this book?)
* Do you agree or disagree with the author's message? Why?

Their reading will be followed up with some group discussion of gifted characteristics and issues, and the kids will also have time to create some sort of project on their book that answers all or most of the above questions. What kind of project they do is very open-ended (write an essay, do a PowerPoint, give a speech, write a play or poem or song, do a poster or diagram, etc.)

This is not an exhaustive booklist by any means, but it's a start. I fully expect this list to grow as the years go by, and a few of these books could potentially even be taken off the list if they don't fit the criteria as well as I had thought they would. Feel free to add your own ideas and recommendations, keeping in mind criteria #3 most of all. (A special shout out of "thanks" goes to the librarians in my district whose expertise was invaluable in helping me put together this list!)

Alvin Webster’s Surefire Plan for Success and How it Failed by Sheila Greenwald.

Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry.

Apollo 13 by James Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger.

Arilla Sun Down by Virginia Hamilton.

The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell. (For this purpose, an excellent book to combine with "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," listed below.)

Been Clever Forever by Bruce Stone.

Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham.

Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson.

Children of the Atom by Wilmar Shiras.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

Deliver Us From Normal by Kate Klise.

Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris.

Einstein: A Life in Science by John Gribbin and Michael White.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis.

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald Sobol.

The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt by Patricia MacLachlan.

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

Forever Changes by Brendan Halpin.

Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho by Jon Katz.

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story by Ben Carson.

Good Enough by Paula Yoo.

The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind.

Ida B: . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.

Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors by Susan Casey.

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs.

Leonardo’s Notebooks by Leonardo da Vinci (edited by Anna Suh).

Letters From Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes.

Libby on Wednesday by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

Maizon at Blue Hill by Jacqueline Woodson.

Matilda by Roald Dahl.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee.

More Than a Test Score: Teens Talk About Being Gifted, Talented, and Otherwise Extra-ordinary by Robert Schultz and James Delisle.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy by Diane Stanley.

My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel. (I had the opportunity to see Samantha Abeel give a keynote address at Edufest a couple of summers ago. It was absolutely fascinating to hear her real-life account of what it's like to be both gifted and learning disabled, or "twice exceptional.")

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Pride of the Peacock by Stephanie Tolan.

Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam (also titled "October Sky"). (Also an AWESOME movie!)

Saving Lilly by Peg Kehret.

The School for Cool by P. G. Kain.

Seeing Emily by Joyce Lee Wong.

Smart Talk: What Kids Say About Growing Up Gifted by Robert Schultz and James Delisle.

The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley by Duncan Blanchard.

Some Day Angeline by Louis Sachar.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan.

The Teenagers’ Guide to School Outside the Box by Rebecca Greene.

The Triple Chocolate Brownie Genius by Deborah Sherman.

The View From Saturday by E. L. Konisburg.

Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas.

The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

More good lists of other possible books for this purpose can be found at the following links:

Hoagies' List of Books Featuring Gifted Children

Gifted Kids, Gifted Characters, and Great Books

Books for Gifted Children Featuring Gifted Children

Film and Fiction Dealing with Giftedness

GT World Reading Lists (click the "Books" link)

Mind the Gap: Engaging Gifted Readers

Juvenile & Young Adult Fiction & Biography: Giftedness

Resources for Students

To learn more about using bibliotherapy with gifted children, try these articles:

Nurturing Social and Emotional Development in Gifted Teenagers Through Young Adult Literature

Using Biography to Counsel Gifted Young Women

Guiding the Gifted Reader

Using Books to Heal and Enthuse Gifted Students

Role Models in Books and Movies

Gifted Fictional Characters

And check out this great book as a further resource: Some of My Best Friends Are Books by Judith Wynn Halsted.

Happy reading!


Thank you for this wonderful book list.

Good list. Remind kids that great books can get converted into awful movies, so they should read the books, not just watch movie versions. (Ella Enchanted is a good example of this phenomenon.)

Thanks so much for the list! I am always struggling to find the right books for my 8yr old, 11th grade level reader. I see some really wonderful possibilities here.

I agree with what Kevin said, A Wrinkle in Time was also completely destroyed in the movie version.

I loved the Great Brain when I read them as as child. Then I got them for my daughter and she loved them.

John Fitzgerald also has a non-fiction book for adults that provides the background behind the stories, title: Momma Married a Morning. It was even more wonderful.

Thanks for the list and the memories.

My favorite story as a kid was Prince Prigio by Andrew Lang, available online through Project Gutenberg and with illustrations at http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/PrincePrigio/index.html

He is a prince who is *too clever.* I still read it regularly since I'm still too clever.

What a fantastic list. I will be bookmarking it for later use. I wonder if you would be interested in making a similar list for younger readers? My 6 year old, 2nd grade daughter reads at a sixth grade level but is not yet ready for "young adult" issues. She is enjoying The Mysterious Benedict Society and also likes Encyclopedia Brown now and then.

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D Schmidt might have a spot on this list as well.

For Occupation: Mommy -- Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield might be worth a try for your daughter.

Thanks, Tamara! Great list. I have a few additions:

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (about a gifted high school sophomore-a few references to sex, but no actual descriptions beyond kissing)

Chasing Vermeer (and sequels)

City of Ember

Another good read:

Evil Genius

You've got quite a collection of titles already. May I suggest Gifted by Nikita Lalwani? It's focus is on a math prodigy during stretches of her childhood and adolescence.

Here's a review from the New York Times for a little background. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/16/books/review/Mishan-t.html

As a school librarian in a rural Canada I have made it my mission to bring excellent books to all my students, but especially the gifted ones. My Grade 3 students are currently enjoying the "The 39 Clues" series. Each of the protagonists (a brother and sister)have their own unique gifts and would fit your criteria well.
To Occupation: Mommy - a number of my students have enjoyed the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. In biography, try Margaret Davidson's "The Story of Helen Keller".

This was wonderful! I grew up living through books and still learn so much from what I read. I have a 6-year-old daughter who is gifted and quite a reader, so I'll be getting some of these books for her.
Another suggestion - "Sticks" by Joan Bauer has a secondary character that is a boy gifted in math. I liked how his giftedness was just part of who he was, nothing special or weird, and how he used it to help the main character succeed in a challenge.

Several other books with strong female (and male) characters that my gifted 5th and 6th graders have enjoyed included Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (and Skybreaker and Starclimber) and Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I'm reading it aloud to my 6th graders now (read it first, it's dark). I also liked The Giver and Ender's Game.

Several asides: My fourth graders loved Mysterious Benedict Society last year and begged me to read the second one to them this year--I'm reading it now but so far disappointed. The kids haven't said anything but I'm finding it very wordy (which was a criticism by some reviewers of the first one)!!

I've noticed over the last few years that my advanced gifted readers need more than what is available in the elemetary library--my 6th graders have read all the Twilight series and some of them have read Book Thief and Libba Bray's Trilogy. Thanks for the list--- and the questions.

I struggle to find books that NO body has read---having them choose from a list like yours is good. I may do that, post the questions to Moodle and see what happens. N.

see also The Anti-Princess Reading List at

"Snow White and Cinderella certainly have their place in all children's hearts. But if you want your kids to grow up believing that girls should dream of more than just kissing the prince, check out these books.

Each of them features strong, smart, spunky girl protagonists that want to eat bugs, get first place in the science fair and grow up to be a teacher, a doctor, a firefighter or even a diva."

I also have a 7 year old who is a voracious reader, but not ready for "YA" themes. Would love to see a similar list geared for their age group and issues. Especially fiction w/"2E" characters, beyond Pennybaker's "Clementine", without being prescriptive.

One book not on your list that might work for both older and younger readers is Konigsburg's "Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and me, Elizabeth". My daughter heavily identified w/both "Elizabeth" and "Jennifer", and read it incessantly last summer -- and still loves it.

And Hamilton's "The Planet of Junior Brown" certainly works for one of these lists, as well as LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy.

Classics might also be good -- though I don't know if they work as well for kids today? I identified w/"Jo March" in "Little Women", which someone gave me for my 9th birthday. That led me to read and identify with many of the classics the "March" girls loved, esp. the Brontes and Dickens, in 4th grade and up.

Something else in the "classic' vein that would introduce another genre is Emily Dickinson. My daughter loves her, and insists on being read Dickinson poems before going to sleep every night. Think of the poems as the inner "voice" of someone exceptional...

First, we are delighted about what you are doing with kids and books! Wow! And, we would love to be involved. We are 22 debut writers looking for classrooms that want to work with authors. Our novels are both middle grade and young adult and cover a broad range of genres. To learn more about us and our books, go to www.classof2k9.com.

Connecting with us could happen in lots of different ways, including an exchange of letters, a question and answer session on our blog (or on yours), a chat room or Skype visit, or when proximity allows, an in-person meet and greet in your classroom (which could also involve more classrooms, an entire grade, or a middle school or high school assembly). The best part about these visits is that they are free!

In addition to visits, we are also encouraging schools to join our nationwide book drive for literacy. On our site, we have tips on how to run your own book drive for a needy school or even for your own! It's a great way for students to share their love of reading and make a difference. Check it out here: http://classof2k9.com/?q=node/58

We also hope you'll enter our contests to win books for your home or professional library. Watch our blog for details: http://community.livejournal.com/classof2k9

We know that this time of the school year is busy and anticipate that the fall might be more appealing. We'd love to work with you or your students and look forward to hearing back from you.

Thank you for your consideration,

Susan Fine
Beverly Patt
[email protected]

Must provide a fairly strong caution for Flowers for Algernon, which I reread recently with the intent to use it in my GT classroom of 5th-graders, i.e. exploring the nature of giftedness with my students. I was surprised to see it on your list, as the parts about Charlie's sexual awakening, and eventual consummation of that desire, were major components of the plot and while not particularly pornographic, were fairly explicit. After suffering foretelling daydreams about classroom read-alouds -- "She. . . stepped out of her underwear. . .she gasped and sighed and called my name" -- and the inevitable conversations with parents, I was disappointed to have to abandon all hope for classroom use. They loved, loved, loved Stargirl. I highly recommend Freak the Mighty and The Tale of Despereaux, despite the fact that it's about a mere mouse and that people are perhaps a bit overly-enthralled with it, IM(notsoH)O. And he's a GIFTED mouse! Tale & Stargirl have good themes about the price of non-comformity, the habits of the unquestioning masses, and the enlightened soul's quest for meaning in life beyond mundane, scurrying, survival. Freak concerns the unusual, symbiotic alliance of a brilliant, dwarph, (spoiler) terminally ill boy and his lumbering, HUGE friend. And for what it's worth, you have your third vote that A Wrinkle in Time was, bar none, the worst movie ever.

Here's another list of Books About Gifted Kids. There's some overlap, but a lot that's different.

Coming late to this thread (via your latest post).

Am surprised to see one of my favorite books--and happy to say my daughter's favorite books--is missing from the list.
"The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper, as well as the other four books in the series.

"the main character is an eleven-year-old boy who learns that he is an Old One, destined to wield the powers of The Light in an ancient struggle with The Dark. Children, both magical and ordinary, feature prominently in the struggle portrayed in the five books."

Magic, Arthurian mythology, good, evil, all set in England...what's not to like? A Newberry Honor book too!

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