Academics > Great Books

2020's Best Books for Gifted Students

Sycamore School's Jennifer Williams (Head of Early Childhood), Glenna Lykens (Head of Lower School), and Katie Baker (Interim Co-Head of Middle School) list their favorites books for children and adults. Need to know what are the best biographies, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and picture books? They tell us.
 
EARLY CHILDHOOD
Jennifer Williams
 
Folk and Fairy Tales
Goldi and the Three Hares by Margie Palatini
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by James Marshall
Goldilocks Returns by Lisa Campbell Ernst
The Three Polar Bears by Jan Brett
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The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney
The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini
 
Song Story Books
The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Isa Trapani
Old MacDonald Had A... Zoo? by Isa Trapani
 
Social/Emotional and/or Multicultural Focus
A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin
Dare to Dream Big by Lorna Gutierrez
A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson
Intersection Allies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council and Carolyn Choi
Lend a Hand by John Frank
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
 
LOWER SCHOOL
Glenna Lykens
 
Biography
Amelia Earhart by Isabel Thomas (part of Little Guides to Great Lives series)
The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson
Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade
Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson by Jennifer Bryant
Greta's Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet
by Valentina Camerini
 
Non-Fiction
ABC: The Alphabet From the Sky by Benedikt Gross
The Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras
Big Bad Ironclad!: a Civil War Steamship Showdown by Nathan Hale (part of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series)
The Big World of Fun Facts: Jump-Start Your Curiosity with Thousands of Fun Facts! by Hilary W. Poole
I Survived True Stories: Five Epic Disasters by Lauren Tarshis (part of I Survived series)
Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Overview: A New way of Seeing Earth by Benjamin Grant
The Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca by Amanda Abler
The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk
Trees: Kings of the Forest by Andy Hirsch (part of Science Comics series)
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky
 
Graphic Novels
Olympians by George O'Connor
White Bird: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio
 
Fiction
Bob by Wendy Mass
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
The Danger Box by Blue Balliett
Eva's Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott (part of Owl Diaries series)
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka (part of Frank Einstein series)
Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker
The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (part of How to Train Your Dragon series)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures by Brian Selznick
The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
A Long Way From Chicago: A Novel in Stories by Richard Peck
Lucy by Randy Cecil
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Out of the Wild Night: A Ghost Story by Blue Balliett
Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt
Refugee by Alan Gratz
Saucy by Cynthia Kadohata
Spy School Revolution by Stuart Gibbs (part of Spy School series)
Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker
Thornhill by Pam Smy
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found by Karina Yan Glaser
Waylon!: One Awesome Thing by Sara Pennypacker
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
 
Picture Books
Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer
If I Was Sunshine by Julie Fogliano
Just Because by Mac Barnett
The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Love by Matt de la Peña
One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Outside In by Deborah Underwood
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
The Rough Patch by Brian Lies
Stars by Mary Lyn Ray
Sticks and Stones by Patricia Polacco
What if--? Then We--: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Possibilities by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
 
Poetry
Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks
Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera
Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines
The Poetry of US by J. Patrick Lewis
The Proper Way to Meet a A Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems by Paul B. Janeczko
Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Winter Eyes by Douglas Florian
Wonderful Words by Lee Bennett Hopkins
 
 
MIDDLE SCHOOL
Katie Baker
 
An Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben Hoare
Readers will discover incredible facts and fascinating stories about their favorite animals and some they have never heard of! each animal is revealed in stunning photos and gorgeous illustrations
 
Calling All Minds by Temple Grandin
Calling All Minds delves into the science behind inventions, the steps various people took to create and improve upon ideas as they evolved, and the ways in which young inventors can continue to think about and understand what it means to tinker, to fiddle, and to innovate.
 
The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution: A Handbook for Time Travelers by Jonathan Stokes
From the publishers of the Who Was? books comes the next big series to make history approachable, engaging, and funny! The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution provides useful information for the practical time traveler, like: Where can I find a decent hotel room in colonial New England? Are major credit cards accepted?
 
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
This is a kooky adventure tale about two small-town Indiana brothers, Caleb, 10, and Bobby Gene, 11, who come under the influence of a cool but shady 16-year-old neighbor with big secrets.

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz
1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children.  As the narrator collects their tales, the story of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.   Their adventures take them on a chase through France to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned. They’re taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. And as their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.
 
Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy
At the start of 1991, eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil was consumed by his love for soccer, video games, and American television shows. Then, on January 17, Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein went to war. Over the next forty-three days, Ali and his family survived bombings, food shortages, and constant fear. Ali and his brothers played soccer on the abandoned streets of their Basra neighborhood, wondering when or if their medic father would return from the war front. This is the story of one ordinary kid’s view of life during war.
 
Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. The four aren’t friends -- at least not until one pulls a prank that traps another and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.
 
Wolf Hallow by Lauren Wolk
Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.
 
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders. Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. Told through Nisha's letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl's search for home, for her own identity...and for a hopeful future.
 
The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
A young outcast, Boy, is swept up into an action-packed and suspenseful medieval expedition across Europe to gather seven precious relics of Saint Peter. Boy quickly realizes this journey is not an innocent one. They are stealing the relics and accumulating dangerous enemies in the process. But Boy is determined to see this pilgrimage through until the end—for what if St. Peter has the power to make him the same as the other boys?
 
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat--by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for "A Room to Talk"), they discover it's safe to talk about what's bothering them--everything from Esteban's father's deportation and Haley's father's incarceration to Amari's fears of racial profiling and Ashton's adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.
 
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him. So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime?
 
Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Paul Fisher sees the world from behind glasses so thick he looks like a bug-eyed alien. But he’s not so blind that he can’t see there are some very unusual things about his family’s new home in Tangerine County, Florida. Where else does a sinkhole swallow the local school, fire burn underground for years, and lightning strike at the same time every day? The chaos is compounded by constant harassment from his football–star brother, and adjusting to life in Tangerine isn’t easy for Paul—until he joins the soccer team at his middle school. With the help of his new teammates, Paul begins to discover what lies beneath the surface of his strange new hometown. And he also gains the courage to face up to some secrets his family has been keeping from him for far too long. In Tangerine, it seems, anything is possible.
 
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—"Cupid Day"—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is … until she dies in a terrible accident that night. However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined. Before I Fall is now a major motion picture.
 
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor's arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland's uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it -- until he realizes it's the only way to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever. This is book 1 in the Underland Chronicles.
 
Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan's Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian
Accompany the son of the sea god Poseidon and his other demigod friends as they go on a series of quests that will have them facing monsters, gods, and conniving figures from Greek mythology.
 
Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Told from multiple points of view, Percy Jackson's adventures continue and escalate as he teams up with Greek and Roman demigods to stop Gaea the earth mother from destroying the world. Combines Greek and Roman mythology with modern-day characters kids will relate to and root for.
 
Artemis Fowl series by Eoin (Owen) Colfer
Twelve-year-old Artemis is a millionaire, a genius-and above all, a criminal mastermind. But Artemis doesn't know what he's taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. These aren't the fairies of the bedtime stories-they're dangerous!
 
Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer
The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with fairy tale characters they grew up reading about. But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.
 
Crossover series by Kwame Alexander (6-12th grade)
Told in dynamic verse -
"With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . . The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. ’Cuz tonight I’m delivering," raps twelve-year-old Josh Bell. Thanks to their dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood—he's got mad beats, too, which help him find his rhythm when it’s all on the line. As their winning season unfolds, things begin to change. When Jordan meets a girl, the twins’ bond unravels.
 
Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger (Middle Grades)
Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She’s a Telepath–someone who can read minds. It’s a talent she’s never known how to explain. Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious (and adorable) boy who appears out of nowhere, and who can also read minds like her. She discovers there’s somewhere she does belong, and that staying with her family will put her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye. Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from what she has ever known.
 
The Unwanted series by Lisa McMann
Kirkus Reviews calls this “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter.”  Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths. Alex is announced as Unwanted, and his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival to the "death farm" there is instead a place called Artime, where each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically. But it's a rare, unique occurrence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron's bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.
 
Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
 
Divergent series by Veronica Roth
 
Delirium series by Lauren Oliver
In an alternate United States, love has been declared a dangerous disease, and the government forces everyone who reaches eighteen to have a procedure called the Cure (brain surgery). But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena meets enigmatic Alex, a boy from the Wilds who lives under the government's radar. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?
 
The Legend series by Marie Lu
Set in a dark, futuristic Los Angeles, the western United States has become home to the warring Republic. A young government prodigy, June, and the infamous, most-wanted criminal, Day, cross paths in this thrilling, romantic young adult series.
 
The School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?
 
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (part of The Mortal Instruments series)
When 15-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder - much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons.when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother?
 
The Selection series by Kiera Cass
For 35 girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape a rigid caste system, live in a palace, and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and competing for a crown she doesn’t want. Then America meets Prince Maxon - and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
 
AUTHORS TO WATCH
Jason Reynolds, whose website byline is "Here’s what I plan to do: not write boring books," is an author of novels and poetry for young adult and middle-grade audiences, including the Track series—Ghost (2016), Patina (2017), Sunny (2018), Lu (2018)—and As Brave As You (2016). Reynolds returned to poetry with Long Way Down. 8th grade students are currently reading Stamped in Language Arts class.
 
Brandon Mull is an author best known for his children's fantasy series, Fablehaven, as well as the Beyonders trilogy, and the Five Kingdoms series.
 
Marissa Meyer’s debut book was Cinder (the Luna Chronicles -The characters play off of different fairytales in the fantasy/ Sci Fi series), and is known for the Renegades series and her newest book Instant Karma.
Cinder (Cinderella)
Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood)
Cress (Rapunzel)
Winter (Snow White)
 
Ruta Sepetys' website byline is "seeker of lost stories." Her stories are historical fiction...and are amazing. I was going to recommend her books anyways, but then several students also recommended them.  Fountains of Silence I recommend to anyone that will listen.
 
And last but not least, we can’t but include John Green and JK Rowling who will always be on our watch list!