Gifted Kids, Gifted Characters,
and Great Books

_________ Bertie Kingore, Ph.D. _________

 

A gifted ten year old reacted to E. L. Konigsburg's female protagonist From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967) by exclaiming: "Claudia is so much like me! She's so bright, she uses logic and plans, but most of all, she wants to do something important with her life. That's exactly how I feel. I don't want my life to just be regular." Quality literature involving gifted characters should be available to gifted children and adolescents to encourage reflection about their feelings, concerns, and interests. These books can help students gain insights into their own lives and identify with others. Librarians know that children frequently seek books about "kids like me." However, because the development of key characters who are gifted is not typical in most books, help is needed to locate books with gifted characters.

The annotated bibliography in this article focuses on the following three criteria: the books are written by authors of merit; each book contains well-developed characters who display gifted behaviors; and the stories include thought-provoking problem situations, issues, or personal needs with which gifted students can identify. These titles are widely available in libraries and many bookstores. A few of these books may be temporarily out of print as publishers are seasonal in their reprinting. However, they are well worth looking for in your library or may be ordered from interlibrary loan.

You can locate additional titles relating to specific social and emotional needs in The Bookfinder: A Guide to Children's Literature About the Needs and Problems of Youth Ages 2-15. While most books listed in that resource do not involve gifted characters, the annotated bibliographies may still prove useful for individual needs.

Since it prompts opinions and emotional reactions, another source certain to motivate gifted students is "One Hundred Books That Shaped the Century" (Breen, et.al., 2000). In that article, a team of experts selected the 20th century's most significant books for children and young adults. Many gifted readers will be intrigued finding out how many recognized books they have read and debating with others why another cherished book should have made the list.
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The books listed in this article exemplify multiple kinds of giftedness including academic/intellectual, performing arts, creativity, specific subject areas, leadership, and psychomotor. It is significant that the characters displaying giftedness in these books represent diverse ethnic populations and a broad span of socioeconomic levels. Thus, these characters model that gifted potentials exist and require nurturing in every population.

The books incorporate a wide range of gifted characteristics through the behaviors and needs of the characters. Different characters in these stories demonstrate combinations of advanced language, complex analyzing and problem solving, content depth and expertise, unique points of view, sensitivity, and a sophisticated sense of humor (Kingore, 2001). Many of the characters use their advanced potentials to benefit others. In Sara Crewe (Burnet, 1981,28), the main character analyzes that "a person who was clever ought to be clever enough not to be unjust or deliberately unkind to any one...So she would be as polite as she could to people who in the least deserved politeness."

Be alert, however, that giftedness is not always portrayed in a positive light; some gifted characters, like other humans, display negative qualities. The author of Matilda (Dahl, 1988) , for example, develops comic relief by posturing the parents as selfish dolts and having the main character use her intellectual genius to get back at some adults as she tries to help her nice teacher, Miss Honey.

Two listed books have animal instead of human characters. The two are worth mentioning for the gifted characteristics they exemplify and the messages they model. Bright young children enjoy identifying with these fantasy figures. Sylvester, in Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (Steig, 1969), unassumingly uses an advanced vocabulary and has such sensitivity he ultimately reminds us that love is more important in life than material possessions. Frederick (Lionni, 1967) documents the significant value of imagination and creativity by suggesting the psychological truth that it is our dreams that help sustain us in difficult times.
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The genre of biographies deserves special consideration as highly applicable for gifted learners. Biographies and autobiographies frequently serve as role models for gifted students by illustrating how even prominent or successful people experienced triumphs, failures, and hardships throughout their lives. Encourage gifted students to seek biographies of famous people in their areas of interests. Librarians can recommend numerous biographies or books with biographic vignettes relating to specific content areas. For example, the list at the end of this article includes Bedard's Emily (writing) (1992)), Krull's Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman (athletics) (1996), Roberts' Henry Cisneros: Mexican American Mayor (politics) (1986), Parks' and Haskins' Rosa Parks: My Story (civil action) (1992), Freedman's The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane (aviation) 1991), and Martin's Snowflake Bentley (science and photography) (1998).

Parents and teachers should read a book first before suggesting it to a student. By reading the book yourself, you may increase your own insight into giftedness, be better prepared to discuss the book with the child, and avoid recommending a book that is not appropriate for a particular individual. Obviously, you make selected books accessible to children rather than force books upon them. After a child has read a book, be available not only to discuss it but, more importantly, to listen to the student's perceptions. When appropriate, encourage children to talk about the areas in which they agree and disagree with the character while they pose alternative problem approaches and solutions.

Suggested age levels are based on the ages of the gifted characters, the complexity of the issues confronting them, and the interest or appeal to gifted readers. However, since gifted learners frequently read and comprehend advanced materials, the appropriate levels of materials can only be determined by adults who know the child.

 
_______ Annotated Bibliography _______

Avi. (1991). Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel. New York: Orchard Books.
4-8 Avi's book emerges as a witty satire of high school politics that invites the reader to question and analyze what they read and hear from the mass media.

Bedard, M. (1992). Emily. New York: Doubleday.
3-6 An insightful vignette of the reclusive life of Emily Dickinson is shared through a young neighbor's visit.

Burnett, F. H. (1981). Sara Crewe. New York: Putnam.
2-6 Originally written in 1888, Sara remains courageous and compassionate as she is orphaned and falls from riches to a pauper.

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, Not Buddy. New York: Delacorte.
4-8 This well-crafted novel explores the life and hard times of a resourceful orphan in search of his father during the Depression.

Dahl, R. (1988). Matilda. New York: Viking.
2-6 Matilda, a genius with selfish dolts for parents, uses her untaped mental ability to punish some hurtful adults and save her nice teacher.

Fitzgerald, J. D. (1967). The Great Brain. New York: Dial.
2-6 This is the first title of an extensive series exploring the adventures of a genius main character.

Fitzhugh, L. (1964). Harriet, the Spy. New York: Harper & Row.
1-5 Harriet is intelligent and curious. She writes observations of her neighbors and classmates and then must devise a creative solution to convince her friends to forgive her.

Fox, M. (1985). Wilford Gordon McDonald Partridge. New York: Kane/ Miller.
K-3 Wilford's favorite friend at the retirement home loses her memory, and he wants to figure out how to find it for her.

Freedman, R. (1991). The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane. New York: Scholastic.
4-8 This non-fiction book, using historical photographs and in-depth information, explains the determination and creativity leading to Wilber and Orville Wright's invention of the airplane.

George, J. C. (1959). My Side of the Mountain. New York: Dutton.
3-6 Sam's diary reveals his experiences living alone and off the land in the Catskill Mountains.

Hamilton, V. (1971). The Planet of Junior Brown. New York: Macmillan.
5-8 Junior Brown is a talented pianist whose weight causes people to ostracize him. This inner-city story weaves a complex tale about friendship, loyalty, and learning to live together.

Hoffman, M. (1991). Amazing Grace. New York: Dial.
K-3 When Grace wants to try out for the role of Peter Pan, her family encourages her to be what she wants to be, but her friends are not as supportive.

Konigsburg, E. L. (1967). From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum.
3-7 A sister and a brother run away from home to hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and decipher the mystery of a statue.

Konigsburg, E.L. (1996). The View from Saturday. New York: Scholastic.
4-8 Four gifted students and their teacher form a team for the Academic Bowl and enhance their humanity in the process.

Krull, K. (1996). Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.
2-6 This is a simple but informative biography of Wilma Rudolph overcoming polio, struggling to walk, and finally becoming an Olympic runner.

L'Engle, M. (1962). A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. (1973). A Wind in the Door. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. (Sequel) (1978). A Swiftly Tilting Planet. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. (Sequel)
3-8 The family members in this science-fiction classic trilogy travel the cosmos, face the problem of being different, fight to overcome evil, and discover the power of love.

Levine, G. C. (1997). Ella Enchanted. New York: Harper Collins.
3-8 In this Cinderella-based novel, the spunky, intelligent heroine struggles to overcome the curse that forces her to obey any command given to her.

Lionni, L. (1967). Frederick. New York: Random House.
K-3 Frederick is different and the other mice have to learn to appreciate him and his talents.

Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.
4-8 This complex novel relates the story of a perfect world with no problems, fears, or pain. The Giver holds the memories of the pain and pleasure of life for the rest of the population.

MacLachlan, P. (1988). The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt. New York: Harper & Row.
4-8 Minna is a talented musician who struggles to learn to appreciate herself and the uniqueness of her family.

Martin, J. B. (1998). Snowflake Bentley. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
2-6 Persistence and family support are taught in this biography of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley--a self-taught photographer and scientist.

Parks, R. & Haskins, J. (1992). Rosa Parks: My Story. New York: Penguin.
K-5 Rosa Parks tells her story including the famous incident on the Montgomery bus.

Paterson, K. (1977). Bridge to Teribithia. New York: Avon.
4-8 Two nonconformist friends create their own magical realm and encourage each others gifts as they grow in self-discovery.

Paterson, K. (1985). Come Sing, Jimmy Jo. New York: Dutton.
4-8 Painful shyness causes self and family conflicts for a gifted eleven-year-old boy when he reluctantly joins his family's musical group.

Paterson, K. (1980). Jacob Have I Loved. New York: Avon.
6-8 Complex relationships and emotions evolve as a twin feels that her sister has deprived her of parental affection and schooling.

Paulsen, G. (1996 ). Brian's Winter. New York: Scholastic. (1987). Hatchet. New York: Trumpet.
3-8 When the plane crashes, Brain is the sole survivor and must solve unique survival problems.

Raskin, E. (1978). The Westing Game. New York: Avon.
3-8 This mystery challenges the reader to follow sixteen characters and plot line twists to solve a puzzle.

Roberts, M. (1986). Henry Cisneros: Mexican American Mayor. Chicago: Children's Press.
3-8 This is the biography of the national government official and former mayor of San Antonio.

Ross, T. (1994). Eggbert the Slightly Cracked Egg. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.
K-2 With a generous serving of puns, Eggbert uses his creativity and has many adventures trying to fit in and be accepted.

Sobol, D. J. (1963). Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective. New York: Thomas Nelson.
1-4 The first title of an extensive series of mysteries that the hero must solve.

Steig, W. (1969). Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. New York: Prentice-Hall.
K-4 Sylvester is in a predicament when he finds a magic stone and a hungry lion. This is a perfect story for illustrating loving family relationships and modeling sophisticated vocabulary.

Taylor, M. (1976). Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. New York: Dial. (1981). Let the Circle Be Unbroken. New York: Dial.(Sequel)
3-8 Cassie and her brother, children of a black school teacher, face subtle and explicit racial prejudice in the early twentieth century.

Voight, C. (1981). The Homecoming. New York: Atheneum. (1982). Dicey's Song. New York: Atheneum. (Prequel)
3-8 With determination and creative problem solving, a young girl struggles to keep her family together after their mother abandons them.

Wynne-Jones, T. (1995). The Maestro. New York: Orchard Books.
4-8 Burl's life is changed in one day when he runs away from his abusive father and stumbles upon an eccentric genius living in a remote cabin.

____________ References ____________

Breen, K., E. Fader., K. Odean, & Z. Sutherland. (2000). "One hundred books that shaped the century". School Library Journal, January, 50-58.

Kingore, B. (2001). The Kingore Observation Inventory (KOI), 2nd ed. Austin: Professional Associates Publishing.

Spredemann-Dreyer, S. (1989). The Bookfinder: A Guide to Children's Literature About the Needs and Problems of Youth Ages 2-15. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.

REPRINTED FROM:
Kingore, B. (Winter 2001). Gifted Kids, Gifted Characters, and Great Books. Gifted Child Today, 24 (1), 30-32.

www.bertiekingore.com