At the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, 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 a community of fellow readers through CTY's rigorous, fresh, and fun on-campus and online courses.

Beginning Readers (Pre-K-Grade 1)

Big by Vashti Harrison 

Any kid who has felt marginalized due to their size will see a part of themselves in this book’s main character, a ballerina who gets stuck in a swing and starts to feel shunned. Foldout pages bring the story to life and help kids follow along as she learns to love herself.

Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall

Readers with big dreams—and a kid-sized amount of patience and resources—will learn the value of persistence while seeing Jabari try to make a flying machine in his backyard.

Sounds Like School Spirit by Meg Fleming

Colorful illustrations and catchy chants like, “We say BOOK, you say BAG … Book! Bag! Book! Bag!” will even have the most reluctant students nodding along and asking, “When does school start?”

Swallows Swirl by Christina Wilsdon

Children will build appreciation for nature—and for using precise words to describe what they see, hear, and feel—as they follow the young narrator and her furry and feathered friends through a year outside her rural home.

What Do You Do with an Idea? By Kobi Yamada

Bright kids will find solace in the narrator’s journey through the exciting and often scary process of turning an idea into something tangible.

Young Readers (Grades 2-3)

Classified by Traci Sorell

Kids with an early interest in STEM will find inspiration in this book about Mary Golda Ross, from her experience as the only girl in her high school math class to her work designing aircrafts as Lockheed Aircraft Corporation's first female engineer.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Welcome to the wacky world of Wayside School, which, instead of being built one story tall with 30 classrooms, was accidentally built 30 stories tall with one classroom on each story. Bright young readers will enjoy meeting the students and teachers, who are just as eccentric as the building itself.

Tenacious: Fifteen Adventures Alongside Disabled Athletes by Patty Cisneros Prevo

Written by a two-time paralympic gold medalist, this nonfiction book shares the compelling biographies and daily obstacles that some of the world’s most tenacious athletes must overcome, from a long jumper with an amputated leg to a young dancer with cerebral palsy.

The Math Inspectors Series by Daniel Kenney and Emily Boever

Math lovers—and kids who need help finding the fun in math—will relish this series about a group of kid detectives who use their numbers skills to crack cases that involve a diamond, a roller coaster, a Christmas caper, and more.

The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-El

Kids will love meeting the wholesome cast of characters who live in “the north part of the north, where the parallels and meridians tangle.” Reminiscent of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series, this book is sprinkled with some nice big words to stretch young readers’ skills and build their vocabulary.  

Advanced Readers (Grades 4-6)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This haunting and atmospheric tale about a boy named Nobody “Bod” Owens, who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard after tragically losing his parents, will appeal to bright kids with a taste for the macabre. The story weaves together elements of fantasy, mystery, and adventure, and deftly explores themes of identity and the blurred lines between life and death.

Gut by Giulia Enders

This fascinating, sometimes-funny-sometimes-gross exploration of the microscopic world that lives inside each of us and plays a crucial role in our health will appeal to readers who are curious about the human body.

The Partition Project by Saadia Faruqi

Budding storytellers will relate to Maha, who decides to focus her documentary project on her grandmother, who has just arrived from Pakistan. Maha learns about world history while also exploring her family and culture in this timely and moving novel. 

Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff

Middle school can be scary, especially when you’re dealing with a potential ghost. Readers who are apprehensive about middle school will see a bit of themselves in best friends Bug and Moira as they spend the summer preparing, in their own unique ways, for the next stage in their lives.

What Happened to Rachel Riley? By Claire Swinarski

Tweens who like mysteries will be intrigued by this novel that starts off with an observation: Rachel Riley, who used to be the most popular girl in school, is suddenly shunned by everyone. Her classmate, podcast enthusiast Anna, tries to find out why, in this book that explores themes of friendship, bullying, and harassment.  

Young Adult Readers (Grades 7+)

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Young Readers Edition) by Sam Kean

Science-minded teens will love learning true tales of the elements— the curious ways they work in the world, the way they’re organized, and the scientists that discovered them—including stories of a radioactive Boy Scout, a gold rush, the eponymous disappearing spoon, and more.  

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

This fantasy novel follows a caseworker who visits magical orphanages for children with unusual abilities. Its quirky characters and messages of acceptance and found family offer a delightful escape for advanced readers who appreciate stories with a touch of magic.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Science fiction fans will be on the edge of their seats following teacher-turned-astronaut Mark Watney as he becomes the first person to walk on Mars. When Watney suddenly finds himself stranded, he must put his engineering skills to the test and dig deep, both literally and figuratively, to survive and make his way back to Earth.

The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz

Strogatz, a renowned mathematician, helps readers discover the beauty and ubiquity of math, which can be found in everything from the spirals in a seashell to the intricate workings of the universe.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

History enthusiasts will be spellbound reading this novel that unfolds during World War II and is told through the alternating narratives of two teenage friends: Verity, a headstrong pilot yearning for adventure; and Julie, an artist with a gift for languages. When Verity is sent on a dangerous mission over Nazi-occupied France, Julie remains behind, tasked with safeguarding Verity’s secrets.