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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why Gifted Kids Need Gifted Fiction

When I was writing The Saeshell Book of Time with the goal of creating the first book that truly exemplifies what I call Gifted Fiction, people used to ask me, "But aren't there already books with gifted people in them? What about Hermione in Harry Potter? Isn't she an example of a gifted person in fiction?"

Hermione from Harry Potter
 My response is simply to ask, "Does this character truly represent all that giftedness is? Is all there is to giftedness simply being exceptionally studious and socially awkward? Is that one dimensional description the entirety of giftedness? For many people, when they think of giftedness, this is exactly what they think of---that and perhaps in class behavior problems. 

What about our huge spectrum of sensitivities, our ability to perceive the surrounding world in different and unique ways. We are born with the instinct to deeply care about how other people think, whether they be gifted or nongifted. Many times we want to change people's heads. Boy do we want to change their minds on things. But even further than that, we want to help them see things in new ways, to change the course of their lives and their behavior---to fix any problems we perceive.

 My friend from the novel, Paul25, is the perfect case of that. Here he is healing a high school boy of a learning disability. Many gifted students like this character. What's not to like? He's a humanitarian, fixing a problem---a fascinating problem because even very young gifted kids understand the wondrous complexities of the mind and the fascinating puzzles it poses. They like solving fascinating puzzles. Good thing---their own head presents one every single day of their lives. 

Paul25 is the nexus of technology, science, and humanitarianism. You see, Paul25 was cooked up in a machine as are the other Pauls, his brothers. A little stroke here, a tweak there, their genetic codes are changed and out pops a Paul with talents for performing a wide variety of policing and humanitarian tasks. Or as one middle school reader of the novel told me, "I've always had a passion for science and I feel I can relate to certain characters in the book and how they utilize their talents for numerous purposes." Notice the plural on the word, "talents". Not just someone who studies and scores well on tests/knows the correct spell at the correct time, but someone who brings a wide array of disparate talents to bear. A character made by science, who uses multiple talents to solve humanitarian problems---not a single trick of the moment, nor a single feat of recalling knowledge---a character using multiple facets of themselves is really a character who gifted kids can admire and identify with.

So that gets us to two dimensions. But to get to a fully three dimensional character gifted kids can truly admire and identify with, the third thing that really has to come in is the social-emotional side of a their lives. And really, one character just won't do. Even in a gifted classroom, there's autism, dyslexia, sensory processing disorders, psycho-motor issues, .... in other words, even if all a their friends are gifted, differences among their friends is just a normal part of their lives, a normal part of "gifted society". So they really appreciate and can strongly identify when that society---those differences---are reflected in the characters of a book. Or as an 11 year old boy who read the book put it, "I like how I can relate to the characters. I’m different just like they are. They are misunderstood and only their parents understand them – I understand that!" Or perhaps as a 10 year old girl put it, "Metaphor: Stefan not having any friends is similar to what I've experienced."

Ty receiving a school lesson on bad aspects of his talents

There are also unique aspects of a gifted kid's social structure that are taken for granted by adults. If you happen to find and drop in on a bulletin board where gifted teens congregate, you inevitably find a thread discussing "THE TEST". Adults know it as the identification test, the one that supposedly determines whether their kids are gifted or not. Honestly, the kids usually already know regardless of the results. But to put "THE TEST" in the raging teen emotional context, imagine someone is giving you a test to determine whether or not you are human. You already know you are. But that test may say that you are not and if that happens, well you had better get used to living next to donkeys because you are going to be a slaving animal. It is such a strong emotional part of a gifted kid's environment that a metaphoric representation of it in the novel just never gets old. The kids want to empathize with the character enduring the trial. They want to see how the character survives "THE TEST". 

Stefan likes to read and so do many gifted students

Really, I have just taken a surface skim of creating characters in novels that cater to gifted kids. A starting point for a writer trying to learn to write a "full experience" for gifted kids could start at Stephanie Tolan's site reading about Dabrowski's Over Excitabilities.

If you have just wandered into this article on my blog, I suggest you read some of the other  articles associated with New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week. Just click the button below and it will take you to articles that originate in the US, New Zealand, and many other places. And I challenge you, if you are not gifted, that as you read various articles on giftedness, you imagine that you are gifted. Think about what the nongifted world looks like for you. Would you change anything? Well then, get to it!


  1. "Is all there is to giftedness simply being exceptionally studious and socially awkward? Is that one dimensional description the entirety of giftedness?" Way to cut to the point Rusty! This is so often the case, and the foundation for the "their going to make it, anyway, why should we provide any real support?" mentality. Great article, Brother.

  2. Rusty, this is an excellent piece about including all the dimensions of the characters you bring into a book gifted readers can identify with. After I wrote Welcome to the Ark, I was pleased that the most common response I got from young and adult readers alike was, "Finally, I was able to find myself in a book." It is important for kids to know that somebody gets them enough to create fiction around their reality.

  3. Thanks, Rusty! This is why I keep going out to speak about gifted kids and "The Gifted/ADHD Connection". Too many kids (and adults) being poked and prodded and assumed to be "abnormal". Well, this is our version of normal. Get used to it. ;)