Ten Books for the Academically Gifted Child

Last minute shoppers rejoice?

With the holiday season here, I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual around young people, and for me that means reading is pushed to the front of my head.  What books should I read out loud to my niece?  What books should I recommend to friends with older children?  This train of thought led me to some list making, and I came up with ten books I would recommend to academically gifted students.  Note, I left out a lot of GREAT books in favor of ones that have a specific appeal to kids who are a little different from their peers–maybe they’re a little more clever, and maybe they have a little harder time fitting in.  The following ten books are what I came up with, and they appear in roughly the order of their age appropriateness.


1)  The Stinky Cheese Man / The True Story of the Three Little Pigs

Being able to look at ideas from new perspectives is an important skill, and in this case, it’s hilarious.  The fact that these target very traditional stories makes them extra appealing.  I list these together since they’re by the same creator, and based on the same concept.

2)  From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

E. L. Konigsburg gets two entries on this list for being awesome.  This book begins with the premise of a child running away to a museum, which should be enough in and of itself, but the rest of the story is full of cleverness and inquiry.

3)  Matilda

The movie is pretty good, but Dahl’s book is the real deal (in no small part due to Quentin Blake’s illustrations).  Matilda goes up against an evil school headmaster and some pretty awful parents using her intelligence and a few small superpowers.

4)  The View from Saturday

This book, also by Konigsburg, is the very first one I thought of when I envisioned this list.  The plot centers around the four members  of an Academic Bowl (Quiz Bowl) team, and the life experiences that have led them to come together and be able to do win the academic competitions.  My description isn’t doing the book justice… I read it a dozen or so times as a child, and I think any child, especially those with a connection to this type of team, will fall in love with it as well.

5)  The Westing Game

The only book on this list to have adult protagonists, The Westing Game is a fantastic puzzle of a book.  I remember rereading it multiple times once I knew the “answer” to see the clues leading up to the ending.


6)  My Side of the Mountain

Despite having a pretty wonderful home life, I still often fantasized about running away, convinced I could make it on my own.  This book was a great way to live out that fantasy, while still being reminded that it wasn’t as simple of an idea as it sounded in my head.

7)  Ender’s Game

Although Card’s later works got a little… weird, this book is still an intense sci-fi story about being the best of the best, and about how alienating a “gift” can be.  You can see a lot of the inspiration for the Hunger Games series here.


8)  The Golden Compass

I was very sad when the movie for this ended up not doing well, especially because I think they did an amazing job with the casting.  I love, love, love this trilogy, but the first book is by far the best, and Lyra is a fascinating protagonist.  Parts of the plot depend on her being able to quickly persuade adults into believing her, both by logic and by lies.  Plus, it has bears in armor.  Also, this book probably belongs in the Middle School section, but the 2nd and 3rd books in the series are a slight step up.

9)  A Separate Piece

I left out Catcher in the Rye from this list, because I think it should be on everyone’s list, and because I think A Separate Piece  and the last book on this list fill its role for an academically gifted teenager just as well, if not better.  A Separate Piece is the best portrayal of the kind of intense friendships that anyone can develop, but tend to pop up among the academically gifted due to their lack of connection to the majority of their peers: when they find someone they can connect with, they latch on with a passion.

10)  The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The reason I prefer Perks to Catcher for this particular list is that Catcher‘s Caulfield is on his own throughout most of the book–this book delves into the same isolating personality that Caulfield has, but shows what that looks like in a more modern, more realistic life.  I’m not a huge fan of the ending, but c’est la vie.  This book is pretty explicit in material, but my recommendation is, of course, that reading it and having a conversation about it is a better path than trying to censor it.

What would your list look like?  Dr. Bertie Kingore compiled another fantastic list with some non-fiction books here, and Hoagie’s has their own section on the subject.


  1. Tracy Weinberg

    Nice selection of books. The Golden Compass is one of my all-time favorites for adolescents and adults. I would add A Wrinkle in Time for upper elementary. I am enjoying your musings.

    • grahamiam

      Thank you Tracy, glad to see you found me! I agree, the Wrinkle in Time series (and pretty much everything L’Engle wrote) is fantastic. There are so many good YA books, it’s hard to narrow it down to 10!

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