Responding to the Young Gifted Reader

A Presentation Given at

The Denver Public School Highly Gifted and Talented Summer Institute
Denver, Colorado

June 6, 2011


Dr. Bob Seney

Professor Emeritus/Gifted Studies

Mississippi University for Women

Mancos, Colorado

One of the things that I enjoy most about working with gifted students is sharing their joy of reading. Many, if not most, gifted students are highly motivated readers. For younger gifted learners, their reading may well become their major coping strategy. Through their reading, they learn to deal with a world that is not equipped to deal with gifted persons and that is often hostile to the gifted. If we appropriately challenge our young gifted readers, they will use their self-directed reading to extend their own knowledge bases, to enhance their own skills, and to develop their capabilities in areas of advanced learning. Guiding gifted learners in their learning is both important and necessary. Guiding the young gifted in their reading is perhaps even more crucial. Since these students are usually proficient and highly motivated readers, their reading needs and reading instruction are often overlooked or dismissed as “They can handle it on their own.” It is our responsibility to guide our young gifted students into positive reading experiences. In this session, we will review the reading needs of young gifted learners and provide suggestions to help strengthen and motivate these learners in their reading.
Goals of this session:

1. To identify the characteristics of the young gifted reader;
2. To suggest approaches and strategies that will involve gifted readers in a variety of responses to their reading.
3. To review current literature that we find appropriate for young gifted readers.
[As Time Allows]
Characteristics of the Young Gifted Reader:
1. They have a passion for reading;
2. They learn to read earlier often spontaneously in preschool;
3. They learn to read independently soon after classroom instruction begins;
4. They read better (advanced reading abilities) and at a faster rate;
5. They read materials beyond the norm for their age;
6. They have an advanced and large vocabulary;
7. They require less drill – if any – to master techniques of the reading process;
8. They read longer;
9. They read a greater variety of literature;
10. Their reading interests differ considerably from their age group;
11. They are more likely to branch out from realistic fiction to fantasy, historical, fiction, and biography.
12. They continue to be voracious readers into senior high and adulthood;
From my “Quick” Review of the Literature: Halsted: 2009; Gross: 1994; Hawkins: 1983; Whitehead: 1984
Where do we go from here?
  1. The verbal characteristics of gifted children provide the first clue. 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.
Adapted from Halsted, 2009
  1. It follows that gifted readers want to read fiction and nonfiction that correspond to these characteristics.
  2. More of the same is not the answer. Moore (2005) suggests a minimum of two major components for a “stimulating reading program”:
    1. Provisions for mastering basic curriculum through curriculum compacting;
    2. Modification of content and process to explore content.
  3. Wood (2008) suggests that there are nine (9) key components for a successful reading program for gifted students:
    1. Assessment
    2. Grouping
    3. Acceleration
    4. Challenging literature
    5. Discussion
    6. Critical reading
    7. Creative reading
    8. Inquiry reading
    9. Enrichment
  4. We must select books which correspond to gifted readers characteristics and interests and which will provide appropriately challenge them. Again referring to Halsted:

Characteristics of Books for the Gifted
· Books that use advanced plot structures, syntax, and vocabulary;
· Books that include supplemental materials, such as pronunciation guides, maps, and glossaries;
· Books that use a full array of literary devices;
· Books that use descriptive words that stimulate strong visual images and express nuances;
· Books that possess language patterns and vocabularies typical not only of the present but of other times and places as well;
· Books that provide settings that evoke an experience of other lifestyles;
· Books that present unresolved problems and compel the reader to draw some conclusions.

Halsted (1988, 2002, 2009)
Consequences for Reading Instruction:
  • Obviously the basal reader with its word attach skills, vocabulary study, comprehension drills, etc are not appropriate;
  • Consider three basic concepts:
    • Use literature to supplement or better yet replace basal texts
    • Form discussion groups based on books:
      • Go beyond plot and fact questions
      • Focus on themes
      • Use higher level questioning strategies;
    • Follow discussion formats from programs such as the Junior Great Books;
  • Provide instruction in the study of literature at an early age;
    • Teach the Elements of Literature
    • Discuss the different Methods of Analysis
    • Use Rosenblatt’s Level of Responses
      • Emotive
      • Interpretative
      • Critical
      • Evaluative
    • Teach the Response Analysis Approach.
An additional handout on these four approaches is available, please email me.
  • Provide reading guidance: Students do not often know what is good, appropriate and challenging literature for them;
  • Know the reader and know books: Then Make the Connection;
  • Halsted’s Characteristics suggest literature of a high standard:
    • First response might be to turn to the classics;
    • But the classics do not deal with contemporary issues and interests of our learners;
    • Our readers have not had the life experiences to appreciate and interpret these literary treasures fully;
    • Remember when and for whom many of the classics were written: highly educated adults at the turn of the 19th Century;
    • Remember that children’s classics were often for teaching purposes and that much of so-called children’s classics were intended for older audiences;
    • Research has shown that too early an introduction to the classics can easily turn off readers and kill their joy of reading.

My Suggestion for Selecting Literature for Younger Readers BUT always remembering that we must first read all literature and remember the interests of the students for whom we are selecting books [Basic criteria: appropriateness and challenge] is to look at Young Adult Literature. We must also recognize that some YA Lit will be inappropriate and that typically YA Lit ranges from about 6th grade through high school.
Seney’s “Stand!”
My basic premise is that when you compare the characteristics of the gifted adolescent, especially the verbal characteristics, the characteristics of books most suited for gifted learners, and the characteristics of young adult literature, you have an almost perfect match. This leads me to the conclusion that young adult literature is highly appropriate for gifted learners.

Young Adult Literature: Defined

The term young adult literature refers “to realistic and contemporary fiction which young adults as well as more mature and critical readers can find aesthetically and thematically satisfying, and which is implicitly or explicitly, written for the adolescent.”
Mertz and England (1983)
Characteristics of Contemporary Young Adult Literature
  • YA Lit has complex characters who seek to resolve conflicts of tremendous consequence to themselves and the world;
  • YA Lit has vividly drawn minor characters who provide texture, advance the plot, and serve as meaningful foils and allies for the protagonists;
  • YA Lit has rich settings, both real and imaginary;
  • YA Lit has deft pacing, skillful use of suspense, flashbacks, and other manipulations of time sequence;
  • YA Lit has narratives told from various points of view;
  • YA Lit has 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.

Monseau and Salvner

In short:
Young adult novels have come of age because they demonstrate the same skillful craftsmanship employed in all good literature and because they have translated to the world of the young adult the same conflicts and issues with which all humans struggle.
In addition: since YA Lit speaks to the concerns and characteristics of gifted students, it 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.


Brown, W. & J. Rogan (1983). Reading and young gifted children. Roeper Review, 5, 6-9.
Donelson, K. & Nilsen, A. (2005). Literature for Today’s Young Adults, 7th Ed. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Gross, M.U.M. (1994). The highly gifted: Their nature and needs. In J.B. Hansen and S.M. Hoover (Eds.). Talent Development: Theories and Practice (pp. 45 - 68). Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.
Halsted, J. W. (1988). Guiding Gifted Readers from Preschool through High School. Columbus: Ohio Psychology Publishing.
Halsted, J. W. (2009). Some of My Best Friends are Books. Guiding Gifted Readers From Pre-School to High School, 3rd Ed. Scottsdale, AZ: Gifted Psychology Press.
Hawkins, S. (1983). Reading interests of gifted children. Reading Horizons, 24.
Johnsen, S. & J Kendrick, eds. (2005). Language Arts for Gifted Students. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press, Inc.
Lesesne, T. (2003). Making the Match. Portland, MN: Stenhouse Publishers.
Mertz, M. & England, D. (1983). The legitimacy of American adolescent fiction. School Library Journal, 30. 119-123.
Monseau, V. and G. Salvner(2000). Reading Their World: The Young Adult Novel in the Classroom, 2nd Ed. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.
Monseau, V. (1996). Responding to Young Adult Literature. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.
Moore, M. (2005). Meeting the educational needs of young gifted readers in the regular classroom. Gifted Child Today. Sept. 2005.
Probst, R. (1988). Response and Analysis: Teaching Literature in Junior and Senior High School. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.
Whitehead, R. J. (1984). A Guide to Selecting Books for Children. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow.
Wood, P. F. (2008). Reading instruction with gifted and talented readers: A series of unfortunate eents or a sequence of auspicious results? Gifted Child Today, 31 (3), 17-25.

Contact Information:

Dr. Bob Seney
Professor Emeritus/Gifted Studies
892 Second Avenue
Mancos, Colorado 81328
970 533-9014

Seney’s Recommended Books for Young Gifted Readers
Dr. Bob Seney
Professor Emeritus
Mancos, Colorado

A Note: Books that “make” my list meet the requirements of Halsted’s Books for Gifted Readers and my own personal criteria. Remember: Before recommending any book to a gifted reader, you should read the book first. Keep in mind the reader’s special interests and challenge level.
Contemporary Literature 2010 - 2005

From 2010 What’s New List
Appelt, Kathi The Underneath 2008
2009 Newbery Honor Book
2008 National Book Award Finalist
Brown, Mary There Are No Words 2010

Creech, Sharon The Unfinished Angel 2009
Flanagan, John Ranger’s Apprentice: Book 7 – Erak’s Ransom 2007
The Ranger’s Apprentice Series
Book One: The Ruins of Gorlan 2005
Book Two: The Burning Bridge 2005
Book Three: The Icebound Land 2006
Book Four: The Battle for Skandia 2006
Book Five: The Sorcerer of the North 2008
Book Six: The Siege of Macindaw 2008
Book Eight: The Kings of Clonmel 2010
Horvath, Polly My One Hundred Adventures 2008
Northward to the Moon 2010
Hunter, Erin Warriors: Power of Three:
Book One: The Sight 2007
Jacques, Brian The Sable Quean 2010
Kelly, Jacqueline The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate 2009
2010 Newbery Honor Book

Korman, Gordon Swindle 2008
Park, Linda Sue Keeping Score 2008
Paulsen, Gary Mudshark 2009
Woods Runner 2010
Masters of Disaster 2010
Riordan, Rick The Red Pyramid 2010
Sampson, Donald The Dragon Boy: Book One of the Star Trilogy 2008
[A First Novel – Colorado Author]
The Dragon of Two Hearts: Book Two of
the Star Trilogy 2009
Stead, Rebecca When You Reach Me 2009
2010 Newbery Medal
Stewart, Trenton Lee The Mysterious Benedict Society and the
Prisoner’s Dilemma 2009
Tolan, Stephanie Wishworks, Inc. 2009
Mathews, Ellie The Linden Tree (ms/e) 2007
Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature

From 2009 What’s New List:
Avi Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 2008
[I Witness Series]
Murder at Midnight 2009
Birdsall, Jeanne The Penderwicks on Gardam Street 2008
DiCamillo, Kate The Magician’s Elephant 2009
unger Games (ms) 2008
Gaiman, Neil The Graveyard Book 2008
Newbery Medal

Hiaasen, Carl Scat 2009
Jacques, Brian Doomwyte 2008
Korman, Gordon Zoobreak 2009
Law, Ingrid Savy 2008
Newbery Honor
Riordan, Rick The Last Olympian: Book 5 2009
Stewart, Trenton Lee The Mysterious Benedict Society and the
Perilous Journey 2008
Yolen, Jane & Robert Harris The Rogues 2007
Girl In a Cage [Reread: On 2003 List] 2002
From 2008 What’s New List:
Barry, Dave & Ridley Pearson Peter and the Starcatchers 2004
Colfer, Eoin Half-Moon 2006
Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox 2008
Curtis, Christopher Paul Elijah of Buxton 2007
2008 Newbery Honor

Creech, Sharon The Castle Corona 2007

Dowd, Siobhan The London Eye Mystery 2008
Hawes, Louise The Vanishing Point 2004
Konigsberg, E.L. The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World 2008
Lowry, Lois The Willoughbys 2008
McGill, Alice Miles’ Song 2000
Riordan, Rick The Lightning Thief: Book 1 2005
The Sea of Monsters: Book 2 2007
The Titan’s Curse: Book 3 2007
The Battle of the Labyrinth: Book 4 2008
Schlitz, Laura A. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices
From a Medieval Village 2007
2008 Newbery Medal
Spinelli, Jerry Eggs 2007
Stewart, Trenton Lee The Mysterious Benedict Society 2007
Woodson, Jacqueline Feathers
2008 Newbery Honor 2007
From 2007 What’s New List:
Avi Bright Shadow 1985/ 1994
(1994 Second Aladdin Paper Back Edition)
Colfer, Eoin Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony 2006

Cooper, Susan Victory 2006

DiCamillo, Kate The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane 2006

Holm, Jennifer Penny From Heaven 2006
Newbery Honor
Jacques, Brian Eulalia 2007
Lord, Cynthia Rules 2006
Newbery Honor; 2007 Scheider Family Book Award:
Middle School Division
Patterson, Katherine The Same Stuff as Stars 2002
Pullman, Philip Lyra’s Oxford 2005
Patron, Susan The Higher Power of Lucky (e) 2006
Newbery Medal

Paulsen, Gary Lawn Boy 2007
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2007
Selznick, Brian The Invention of Hugo Cabret (ms) 2007

From 2006 What’s New List:
Armstrong, Alan Whittington [e/ms] 2005
Newbery Honor
Birdsall, Jeanne The Penderwicks (e) 2005
National Book Award
Birney, Betty The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs 2005
Corder, Zizou Lion Boy: The Truth - Book 3 2005
Creech, Sharon Replay 2005
D’Adamo, Francesco Iqbal 2003
Giff, Patricia Reilly Willow Run 2005
Gray, Margaret The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool 2002
Haddix, Margaret Among the Free 2006
Hale, Shannon Princess Academy 2005
Newbery Honor
Hoeye, Michael No Time Like Show Time 2004
A Hermux Tantamoq Adventure

Jacques, Brian Voyage of Slaves (Castaway Series) 2006
Lowry, Lois Gossamer 2006
Woodson, Jacqueline Show Way 2005 Newbery Honor [illustrated by Hudson Talbott]
From 2005 What’s New List:
Avi Poppy’s Return 2005
Choldenko, Gennifer Al Capone Does My Shirts 2004
Newbery Honor
Freedman, Russell The Voice That Challenged a Nation: 2004
Marian Anderson and the Struggle
For Equal Rights
Newbery Honor
Jacques, Brian Rakkety Tam 2004
The Ribbajack 2004
Kadohata, Cynthia Kira-Kira 2004
Newbery Medal
Oppel, Kenneth Silverwing [e/ms] 1997
Sunwing [e/ms] 2000
Firewing [e/ms] 2003
Paulsen, Gary The Time Hackers 2005
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 2005
This List is a “Work in Progress.” I intend to extend it next by adding “contemporary classics” such as Patterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, etc.
Additional References
Research on Effects of Using the Classics
Bushman, J. (1997). Young adult literature in the classroom –Or is it? English Journal, 86 (3).
Bushman, J. & K. Parks-Haas (2001). Using Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill, Prentice Hall.
Carlsen, R. & A. Sherrill (1988). Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Lesesne, T. (1991). Developing lifetime readers: Suggestions from fifty years of research. English Journal, 80 (6).
O’Connor, M. (1980). A study of the reading preferences of high school students. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service NO. ED 185 524)
U. S. Department of Education (1990). A profile of the American eight grader. Washington, DC: Author.