Reading List: Good books for bright kids

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At the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY), we encourage kids to explore the things that make them happy. Let them choose their own adventures from this reading list for bright kids compiled by CTY’s reading experts, or connect them with fellow readers through CTY's online and summer programs.

Beginning Readers (Pre-K-Grade 1)

Because by Mo Willems

Musicians-in-the-making will love this book about the ways a string of serendipitous events can have a lasting effect on someone’s life. For the heroine of this book, a chance to attend a concert leads her to pursue dreams of making her own music.

Count on Me by Miguel Tanco

Readers with mathematical minds will be drawn to the narrator of this book, who sees math everywhere she goes, from the art museum to the playground. Drawings put the math concepts she sees in the world—like curves, pyramids, and concentric circles—into context for young readers.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Lyrical prose and beautiful illustrations will comfort kids who may feel like they don’t belong, and encourage readers of all backgrounds to celebrate and share stories about the things that make them unique.

The Hike by Alison Farrell

This book is like a breath of fresh air for emerging readers, who will appreciate the simple text and immersive illustrations that follow three friends and their dog on a walk through the forest. Labels are included to help readers identify the birds, plants, mushrooms, and other wildlife they find along the way.

The Kids' Book of Simple Machines by Kelly Doudna

Little tinkerers will love learning about levers, pulleys, wheels and axles, seeing how they work in the world, and having the chance to make their own contraptions through this cool book which includes short tidbits about the scientific method and famous inventors throughout history.

Young Readers (Grades 2-3)

Ban This Book: A Novel by Alan Gratz

Bibliophiles will be on the edge of their seats when Amy Anne learns that her favorite book has been banned from the school library and decides to do something about it.

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott

Kids who have trouble communicating their thoughts will relate to the narrator of this beautifully illustrated book, who stutters—but finds a voice, and find peace within himself, during a walk with his dad along the river.

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

After spotting three ladies dressed as mermaids while riding the subway with his grandmother, Julián starts seeing the beauty in everyday objects and using them to piece together his own costume, in this book which will appeal to artistic readers young and old.

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

Faizah and Asiya are excited for their first day of school until one of them is teased for wearing a hijab, in this book which will teach readers about the bonds of sisterhood and the value in standing up for yourself.

Zoey and Sassafrass by Asia Citro

Kids will love learning scientific concepts with young researcher Zoey and her cat, Sassafras, as they use science to help critters solve their problems, in this fun and educational series.

Advanced Readers (Grades 4-6)

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Readers will experience the sacrifices immigrants make when they choose to pursue a better life in a new country, through the emotional story of Efrén, a 7th grader whose family is devastated when his mother is deported to Mexico.

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

Fans of history and fantasy will enjoy this fast-paced and adventurous novel, set in 13th century France and told from the vastly different perspectives of three kids with magical powers.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Kids who have felt the first-day-of-school jitters will eagerly read this graphic novel to find out how 12-year-old Jordan deals with being the new kid at a prestigious private school where none of the other students look like him.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Readers will learn about racism, prejudice, and early American history through this story about Mary, 11, and other residents of a town near Martha’s Vineyard where many of the inhabitants are deaf. In this exquisitely written novel, the community members join together when an ill-intentioned scientist seeks to conduct research on one of their own.

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

Science fans will enjoy this novel that follows three siblings, including one who wants to be an astronaut, on their separate paths through middle school in 1986 amid the leadup to the Challenger space shuttle launch.

Young Adult Readers (Grades 7+)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Any teen who has been made to feel like they shouldn’t exist will relate to this memoir by Noah, the comedian and television host, who reflects on the challenges he faced growing up as a biracial child in South Africa during apartheid, when interracial relationships were illegal. An adapted version of this book for readers ages 8+ is also available.

Husky by Justin Sayre

“It’s a funny word, and makes you think of a strong dog in Alaska or something else cute but powerful,” says 12-year-old narrator Davis, who is coming to terms with his body, his family, and relationships with his classmates, in this wholly absorbing novel that will speak to tweens of all shapes and sizes.

Sunnyside Plaza by Scott Simon

Sally, a 19-year-old resident of a group home for adults with developmental disabilities, narrates this story about teaming up with her fellow occupants to solve a mystery. This empowering novel will build empathy in readers as they get to know Sally, her friends, and their many strengths.

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

When her parents leave to care for older relatives in Japan, 12-year-old Summer stays in Kansas with her younger brother and grandparents and helps keep the family farm running. This book will teach readers the value of hard work and of staying grounded when everything around them feels out of control.

You Should See me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Ambitious readers will see themselves in Liz, an awkward teen who dreams of leaving her small Midwestern town to attend college and become a doctor. When her scholarship falls through, Liz has to find the self-confidence to compete for the title of school prom queen, which comes with a cash prize.