Help Your Advanced Reader: Eight Practical Ways to Find Great Books

Parents and teachers of gifted or advanced children, do these children sound familiar to you?

She has 14 books on her nightstand, seven at the foot of the bed, and probably two or three more under her pillow. She has surrounded herself with books for as long as you can remember.

He "sneaks" reading in at all times of the day, sometimes smuggling books into the smallest crevices and cracking them the tiniest bit open the moment he thinks you're not watching.

She's maxed out her library card allowance,  consumed multiple books from your own shelves, borrowed from friends and teachers, and is constantly on the hunt for more.

He devours each and every book he can find, often able to tune out many noises and other activities occurring in his surroundings. He would miss meals if you didn't remind him.

I know I've encountered these children both at home and at school. (In fact, there is a pretty good chance that I actually am one of those people ^^^.)

If you know (or live with) one of these voracious readers, you might find yourself thinking about what a blessing it is that your child or student reads so widely and deeply! After all, it is pretty awesome, right? Think of all the learning and imagining and growing your child is getting just from gobbling up all of those books!

If you know (or live with) one of these voracious readers, you are probably also familiar with what can feel like a never-ending struggle to find suitable reading materials. It's not always easy hunting down the next great read (or 826 reads) for your little (awesome) bookworm.

Today's post is aimed at helping point you to a few good places to look for the next reading treasure for your bookish child.

First Things First: Schools of Thought on What Kinds of Books are Best

There are several different ideologies about what gifted children should be reading. 

Guided reading gurus like Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell have developed a system to match readers with leveled books. In a nutshell, they suggest that children be evaluated to determine what their instructional, independent, and frustration reading levels are. According to their research, they've found that children should tackle books that are deemed too difficult with for their current reading skills with extreme caution. If they can't understand 90-95 percent of the words on the page, their reading comprehension will suffer.  Instead, the authors suggest that children read books together with support from a parent or teacher that are at their instructional reading level, and save the books at their independent reading level to read on their own. 

Using reading levels is not isolated to guided reading. The advent of the Common Core State Standards brought with it the use of the Lexile system, which claims to match readers and books through the use of computer software. Critics of the Lexile system have noted that books like Fahrenheit 451 and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are listed at very similar levels, which calls into question the notion of whether the system is truly able to evaluate the complexity (and maturity
level) of the ideas presented in the books. 

There are other schools of thought that suggest children should have full autonomy over which books they read. Teachers and researchers like Nancie Atwell and Donalyn Miller have suggested that it doesn't necessarily matter whether the books are too easy or too hard for the child (within reason) as long as they are engaged in reading books that they actually want to read for extended periods of time each day. These behaviors reflect what it's like to be an adult reader, out in real life. According to Donalyn Miller, 

Providing students with the opportunity to choose their own books to read empowers and encourages them. It strengthens their self-confidence, rewards their interests, and promotes a positive attitude toward reading by valuing the reader and giving him or her a level of control. Readers without power to make their own choices are unmotivated. 

Critics of this thinking argue that children won't be growing as readers if they're spending time rereading Charlotte's Web for the seventh time or if they are toiling away at Moby Dick for weeks and weeks. * To be clear, I believe this characterization is a bit of an exaggeration of what choice reading proponents have laid out,  and not really reflective of my own concerns, but I thought it was worth noting.*

And then there are some people who think that children (advanced or not) should all just stick to the books that are marked as appropriate for their grade level/age. They say that advanced readers don't need advanced texts because they can "go deeper" with the regular grade level texts. Matching advanced readers to texts marked for students' current grade level can sometimes be a little more challenging, but can definitely work if you manage to find books that are more complex in structure, perspective, genre, or theme.

I tend to think that a combination of these approaches works best. Finding a balance between allowing choice, and guiding students to choose books that will help them grow as readers by stretching their decoding, reasoning, and reflection skills at the same time seems to be the best approach for me. Further, whichever approach you prefer, for gifted readers, it is important to find books that have rich language, complex but relatable characters, and intricate plots to satisfy their needs and help them grow.

No matter which of these ideologies seem to match your reader's needs (and your own thinking) best, the problem remains: how can I find books that will work for my kid?!

Some Practical Ways to Find Books That Fit

Below is a compilation (in no particular order) of strategies and resources I use when trying to help match readers to books. This list stems from my experience teaching gifted readers starting in kindergarten through 5th grade as well as from having my own advanced readers at home. None of these recommendations are part of any kind of affiliate program--I won't get money if you choose to purchase anything after reading the recommendations. I'm suggesting them to you because they are what worked for me as a gifted intervention specialist and parent. 

  • Picture books--I think these are an often undervalued resource. Kids (and adults alike) think that once they are fluent readers, chapter books and novels are the only way to go. And while using those longer books certainly provide a little more respite in between searches, picture books can provide really rich opportunities for exposure to advanced themes, vocabulary, and structures that may be too difficult for readers to access in the longer stories.   Authors like Patricia Polacco, Jan Brett, Bill Peet, Graeme Base, Chris Van Allsburg, Steven Kellogg, Mark Teague and Tomie DePaola are some of my go-to picture book authors. 

  • Graphic novels--Despite what you may be thinking, these books are so much more than long form comic books!  A lesson plan on the Scholastic Teachers website called A Guide to Using Graphic Novels with Children and Teens notes:
The excellent graphic novels available today are linguistically appropriate reading material demanding many of the same skills that are needed to understand traditional works of prose fiction. Often they actually contain more advanced vocabulary than traditional books at the same age/grade/interest level. They require readers to be actively engaged in the process of decoding and comprehending a range of literary devices, including narrative structures, metaphor and symbolism, point of view, and the use of puns and alliteration, intertextuality, and inference. Reading graphic novels can help students develop the critical skills necessary to read more challenging works, including the classics.

  • Children's Classics/Books Written Long Ago-- I love using classics and older books with advanced readers for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons I frequently recommend them is that the content in them is often less questionable than some of the modern-day books written at the same level.  Also, the language in some of the books written long ago is not commonplace in our everyday speech, so comprehending the texts definitely takes more effort on the reader's part. And, despite what Mark Twain may have said about classics, these books can be entertaining and fun for children to read. My daughters loved Pollyanna, The Velveteen Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte's Web, The Secret Garden, Aesop's Fables,  Mother Goose Stories, and others. 

  • Literary Magazines--These were always a hit in my upper elementary classroom. I love them because they include a nice variety of genres like poetry and nonfiction that children may not always go about choosing on their own. They are also often illustrated, and sometimes include fun writing contests that help motivate some children to compete! There are many options for these magazines, but my favorites are from Cricket Media (not an affiliate link,  I just LOVE these magazines). Titles like Spider, Cricket, Muse, Calliope, Odyssey, and Cobblestone were always student favorites. There are other options available, like Scholastic's StoryWorks Magazine, however, I found them to be too simple for my advanced readers, beyond perhaps some of the comprehension skills practice they offered. 
  • Project Gutenberg--This site has a collection of over 54,000 FREE ebooks! One really nice feature is that they don't require registration, so using it in school (or at home) is a breeze. They also offer several different ebook formats,  so you have some flexibility in how you access the books. On the site, you can click on a tab labeled "Book Categories," which will lead you to many different groupings of books, including children's books and classics.  You still have to know what you're looking for, of course, which leads me to my next recommendation:

  • Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers, by Judith Wynn Halstead-- This is a book I've had in my collection for many years. Now in its third edition, this title describes the intellectual and emotional needs of gifted readers, provides a framework for typical reading development, and offers advice for parents and teachers of gifted children in guiding their young gifted readers in choosing and understanding books. It also has an annotated book list of over 300(!) books divided into both age groupings and listed under intellectual and emotional topics or themes such as intensity, introversion, developing imagination, sensitivity, and resiliency, among many others. It is truly a wonderful book that I recommend anyone who works with gifted children add to their library. 

  • Librarians--Meet them, greet them, bake cookies for them, and treat them well. They are one of the most powerful and resources we have on our journey to find great books. I had one school librarian, in particular, that would just scour the ends of the earth with me to try and find books that were just right for my advanced readers. One note of caution--not all librarians are fans of allowing children to read out-of-level books. To this I say you can thank them for their input. If you want to, you can also gently let them know that according to your own research and the knowledge you have of your own student or child, you believe reading X, Y, or Z types or levels of books is the best option at this point. Feel free to give them my email address if they have questions.  ;) 

  • Use Websites and Facebook Groups for more recommendations--Other parents and teachers of gifted people are almost ALWAYS willing to share with you the books that worked for their children or students. The book lists section under the kids/teens section on Hoagie's Gifted website has TONS of annotated books lists for many topics like Classic Fiction, Girls and Young Women, Math and Programming, Mystery, Puzzle Books, Books about being Gifted, Arts and Crafts, and many more. On Facebook, search for groups or pages operated by your local gifted associations or larger groups like the NAGC or Hoagies' Gifted Education Page. In those groups, parents are encouraged to share experiences, ask questions, and give recommendations to one another. 

A Few More Tips

DO... out of level books before/with your children when possible. If you can't do that, try checking out the Common Sense Media website for information about the content and language in the book.

...check the lists of reviewed books from district, state, and national sites. Here are a few of the good sites I've come across:
Recommended Books for Talented Readers
Book List for Elementary Gifted Students
Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented: Books for Young Readers
Good Books for Verbally Talented Readers

...send out a permission slip for out-of-level books if you are a teacher. You can see the one I created here. 

...use technology to your advantage. From the lists upon lists that I've referenced above to the ability to check out books online from your local library to download your child's device, the sky is the limit when finding books that your young advanced reader will love!


...assume your values match those of your student's families and limit or encourage above-level texts accordingly. This is why sending a permission slip can be so helpful! It removes the responsibility of judgment from your shoulders and allows parents/guardians to decide.  

...limit kid's consumption of texts to only their "Zone of Proximal Development"/Reading Level/Lexile Level. There are so many factors that influence a child's ability to comprehend text. Motivation to read the text plays a HUGE role in the child's ability to stay with the story and work at comprehending it. 

...assume one size fits all. Among the group of children in a single grade level who are considered advanced readers, there can still be an enormous range of reading abilities and interests. Just because the book works for one child doesn't mean it will work for all children.

Do You Have Any Other Great Resources?

Leave me a comment below or connect with me on Facebook and let me know what tips you have for finding great books for your gifted or advanced readers! 



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