Books for Children
A word about books for children...
When I assess children at the Gifted Resource Center of New England, one of the recommendations is about reading, and specifically about books for gifted children. Reading is a particularly good way for gifted children to experience the world of the imagination. In reading, we develop our own images of what happened, what things and people look like and how emotions are experienced. Relying on our own imagination produces inner resources in a way that incorporating a media image does not.
All books teach us something. It might be as simple as how a satisfactory ending makes us feel, or it may be as complex as helping us to understand the human existence a little more completely. Many books will teach us about solving problems, understanding human relationships, dealing with conflicts, learning empathy and compassion, developing independence, and the value of positive virtues such as honesty, perseverance, friendliness, truthfulness, and bravery. Books can also teach the opposite though – such things as a love of violence for its own sake, negative traits like narcissism, greed or untrustworthiness, and reward for not following the rules. The notion that the end justifies the means is a complex moral dilemma for adults but is presented as desirable in some books for children. Thus, I suggest parents preread some of the books children choose to see what view of the world is promulgated.
Here Are Some Other Things To Keep In Mind:
1. For what age group is the book intended?
Just because Larry and Suzy can read that level book doesn’t mean he or she ought to. For example, the Harry Potter series is intended for children ages 9 or 10 on up. In fact, some of the later books in the series are too scary for age 9 and 10. These books aren’t meant for ages 5 and 6, even if children that age can read them. A child with a high reading level is a problem for parents of gifted children because younger children want to read what older children read. The trouble is, once you’ve read Harry Potter, the Magic Tree House series isn’t very interesting anymore. One concept I introduce to parents and children is the idea that there are many interesting books to read, including books below one’s reading level. After all, think of all those university graduates who enjoyed Harry Potter even though it is written for middle schoolers. Modeling the reading of all types of books can help children to broaden their point of view that books for their age group are too 'babyish.'
When selecting books for children it is helpful to know the age for which it is intended. A book written for older children is likely to address social issues and themes appropriate for that age group, and may not be appropriate for your much younger child.
2. What will the child learn from the book?
Frequently, when young children read books meant for older children, I ask how the child is handling the scary parts, the violence and the concept of evil in the book. "Oh, it doesn’t bother him or her" is a frequent answer. If this is true, it may not be a good thing. It could mean those parts are being skipped by the child or ignored, but it also can mean the child is being desensitized to violence and negative character traits. Is it really a good thing for it not to bother a young child that people are being killed in gruesome ways, or that winning at all costs is what is important? It's the context that matters. Does the child have the inner resources to process the material in a way that allows him or her to gain a perspective on the character’s world, or is the child left with a picture that violence and negative traits count more than virtues?
3. Discussing and sharing books with children
One of the ways to put books into context is to share them with children. Discussion of the point of view of the characters, why they did the actions and what happened as a result can clarify for children what are consequences of violence and evil. Also discussion could revolve around what virtues the child sees in the book and how these might impact their own lives. In this way, parents can share some books that children are not mature enough to read on their own, but have the desire to read. Parents also can introduce other books that children might not find because they are not the most popular ones. Thus, Harry Potter is popular so every child has heard of them, but many fewer have heard of The Young Wizard series by Diana Duane. These books are meant for ages 8 to 12. Older children might also enjoy the hundreds of books by Enid Blyton. These were written in the middle of the 20th century. Some are violent, but most are not. These books require sharing with parents because of the stereotyping and violence in some of them. Consulting with your local librarian for some of the more old fashioned books can lead to treasures that most children would not find one their own: Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Great Brain series, Lois Lenski’s series, Little House on the Prairie, Eleanor Estes series, and many more are there if you know where to look.
4. Resisting pressure when everyone else has read a book
It can be difficult to resist pressure to let your child read a book everyone else is reading, but it can be important to do so. However, parents need to be aware that the child may find books that are prohibited at someone else’s house, or at school. This is certainly the case with popular children’s series. It is less the case with books for teens that younger children may have heard about but really don’t have access to. It can be helpful to the child to know when the parent will allow the book to be read. For example, one parent told his 7-year-old daughter she could read the last few Harry Potter books when she was 12. This helped the girl to have a boundary –she knew when she could read the books so she could stop asking. It wouldn’t be tomorrow or next month.
5. Dealing with scary books
Some gifted children have little tolerance for frightening and sad events in books. Even things that seem innocuous to most children can seem frightening to a very sensitive child. There are some gifted children who can’t read any book in which anyone or any animal is hurt or dies. This eliminates many books and presents problems when books are chosen for reading by the whole class at school. Carefully choosing books that gradually increase in intensity of negative events can help children learn how to use their inner resources to cope with negative feelings. These sensitive children will need many books preread by parents and discussed as the events unfold. Stopping when the child needs to stop is important, so the child feels some control, but so is taking up the story again. Bad things happen in life and books are a good way for children (and all of us) to learn how to cope with the feelings that bad things can bring. Sometimes it is helpful with very sensitive children to read the plot first so they know what happens. Some children can read a sad book if they already know it has a happy ending. Discussing why we have to learn to cope with sad things and scary things can be effective if the child can see that there is a range of affect. That is, things can range from a little bit sad to very sad. We cope in different ways with mild sadness than we do with great sadness. Rating situations in books along a sadness or scariness line can help the sensitive child learn to cope.
The Gifted Resource Center of New England will be developing a list of books for children. If you wish to contribute a book title, e-mail us with the name of the book, author, publisher, year published, and please rate the book for violence, scariness, and age level. Also tell us a little about it. We would appreciate an indication of how easy it is to obtain the book.