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Volume I, Issue 1, February 20, 2002

Precocious Readers

Rita Soltan, Head of youth Services, Baldwin Public Library (Birmingham), soltanri@baldwinlib.org

MLA Fall Conference November 7, 2001

Recommending children's literature and providing readers' advisory is a constant responsibility for youth services librarians. We take on this role in a variety of ways, from creating and producing recommended reading lists by grade level, subject matter, and curriculum needs to working one on one with our young patrons and their parents. More often than not, we are on the lookout for reluctant readers, be it children who read well but aren't interested or children who struggle to get through a chapter. However, in providing service to a complete community, we also must remember the gifted child, one I like to call the precocious reader. What criteria can we use to offer the best reader's advisory for this child? How does a gifted child learn and develop interests that we can nurture through his/her reading? Roxanne Reschke, Consultant in Learning Services Differentiated Instruction for Oakland Schools provided a clear overview on the learning needs of the gifted child and strategies for selecting literature for this part of the community we serve.

It must first be noted that Michigan, unlike other states, does not mandate gifted education in its public schools. This eliminates the requirement to identify gifted students and has created three islands of thought on how to approach or address these children in a curriculum. The first "island" is that of doing nothing because these children will make it by means of their own abilities, regardless. The second "island" is that of using the standardized IQ exam for identification where scoring beyond a certain point level is a requirement. The third "island" involves the understanding of what Howard Gardner calls "the theory of multiple intelligences" - that we can possess intelligence in eight different ways: verbally, mathematically or through logic, visually, kinetically, musically, through an understanding of nature, and with two emotional intelligences: self-intelligence and interpersonal intelligence.

Gifted children possess certain characteristics that will affect their reading interests and needs. They generally show a wide overall knowledge or some advanced interest in one or more fields. They very often possess a large vocabulary, read well and widely, and display a long attention span. This fosters exposure to a breadth of reading material that will develop critical reading skills and the opportunity to pursue a subject in depth. Gifted kids tend to be more sensitive and feel more comfortable with their true peers, people not necessarily of the same age but of the same interests. It is also important to remember that while most gifted children share the characteristics mentioned, each child is also unique in terms of experience, interests, personality, and expression of abilities.

So what can we as children's librarians do specifically for the precocious readers and parents who enter our libraries? First, try to get an idea of what the child's interests are as you would with all readers' advisory requests. Next, try to incorporate some of the following criteria for selecting literature for a gifted reader.

  • Language should be rich, varied, precise, complex and exciting
  • Story should be open-ended and inspire contemplative behavior
  • Book should leave the reader with as many questions as answers
  • Fiction should be complex enough to allow interpretive and evaluative behavior
  • Non-fiction should help students build problem-solving skills and develop methods of productive thinking

Also remember that these youngsters love to read about people to whom they can relate. Characters that are portrayed as intelligent, talented, resourceful, and/or inventive within a well-developed plot sequence will be more intriguing to the child. Biographies of people with the same interests and who were considered gifted before and during their accomplished lives are also good suggestions. Try a wide variety of non-fiction exposure for the child interested in an in-depth study of a topic. When appropriate, suggest participation in discussion groups either through the library or their community, or by joining an author study group. In addition, websites designed for the gifted and talented and their educators can provide suggested reading lists, such as that at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University (http://www.jhu.edu/~gifted/).

Suggested Bibliography

Baskin, B.H., & Harris, H. (1980). Books for the gifted child. New York: R.R. Bowker.

Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University (http://www.jhu.edu/~gifted/).

Clark, B. (1997). Growing up gifted. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York: Basic Books.

Hauser, P., & Nelson, G.A. Books for the gifted child (Vol. 2). New York: R.R. Bowker.

National Research Center for Gifted & Talented at University of Connecticut (http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/nrcgt.html).