Sunday, January 13, 2019

Guest Post: The Gifted Kid Book Series by Gloria van Donge

by Gloria van Donge

The Gifted Kid Book Series has been written to create a doorway into the world of the gifted child.  The stories provide a fantasy world in which children can safely examine real world issues.

How did this journey begin?

Early in 2012, our daughter phoned to share her wonderful idea about writing a picture book, especially for gifted and talented children.  Bronwyn had been teaching for some 15 years before she became a Project Officer with the Department of Education where she, along with others, trained teachers to work with gifted and talented children.  For a period of 8 years, she was involved in setting up GEMs in schools around Brisbane, Australia.  GEM means Gifted Education Mentor.  And now, she wanted to write a book to encourage gifted children and help them start conversations with their parents.  Then came the crunch line – “Would I be her editor?”  Little did I know then that, in the next five years, the tables would be turned.  Bronwyn’s workload increased.  The topic expanded.  One picture book grew to five, and Bronwyn became the editor and I donned the author’s hat.

Why did you choose to write for gifted children?

It was only during Bronwyn’s time as a project officer that she discovered that she was gifted.  The more she learned about this topic, the more things fell into place for her.  Self-acceptance, self-esteem and self-confidence blossomed with this new understanding.  She began to realise that being gifted was normal for her.

As parents, we realised that if we had known about giftedness when she was small, it would have made a difference for he.  Had we been aware, we may not have dismissed our child’s early developmental stages as normal.  We thought every young child could structure sentences, talk well and remember everything. Had we known, we may have realised that behind this well-behaved little girl was an exploding mind wanting freedom to explore.  We may have heard her struggle to find where she fitted in. Had we understood, we may have recognised her camouflaging behaviour, her search for friends – mainly older than herself – and her boredom with repetition.

Now, 40 years later . . .

  • What if we could create stories that would help other parents of gifted children?
  • What if gifted children discovered for themselves that being gifted could be wonderful, fulfilling and worth treasuring?
  • What if these stories raised awareness in the community and became a catalyst for discussion about the social and emotional wellbeing of gifted children?

How did you come up with your characters for this series?

One of the analogies Bronwyn used to help teachers identify with gifted children was an article written by Stephanie Tolan, called “Is it a Cheetah?”   With Stephanie Tolan’s permission, her cheetah analogy became the seed idea that sparked our decision to cast the main characters as cheetah cubs. 

Tell me about your characters.

There are five main characters, each with their story to tell; so there are five books in the series.

  1. In book 1, Chelsea is gifted in innovative thinking.  She comes up with unusual ideas to avoid the “boredom blues”.
  2. In book 2, Chadwick is the athlete.  He’s Mr Muscle, custom-built to run fast; but he has a problem. Should he run as fast as he can, or should he slow down so his friend, Tiger, can keep up?
  3. In book 3, Christina is gifted creatively; but she wants to do everything perfectly.  What happens when she makes a mistake?
  4. In book 4, Chevron is interested in math and science; but, intellectually, he is out-of-sync with his peers.  He’s a reflective thinker who comes up with a unique way to solve his problems.
  5. In book 5, Charlotte is gifted emotionally.  She has lots of empathy with others and is upset when things are unfair.

What part of this journey has brought you the most joy?

I have really loved working in my creative workshop – developing my cheetah cubs, seeing their characters emerge and getting to know what they would say and feel. This has been so much fun.  To see bland text on a white page being transformed into real characters with eyes and a face and emotions was exhilarating.  When I received the first black and white drawing of the landscape, I thought, “Yes.  This is their home.  This is where they live.  This is a safe place for them to tell their stories.”

Discovering my creativity has been a motivating force that has powered me on and on.  It’s like slowly lifting the lid of a hinged blanket box and releasing hundreds of beautiful butterflies.

What was the most daunting part of bringing your books to life?

One of my reviewers said, “There is a tenderness to the characters and a tone of celebration of their uniqueness.”

To achieve this outcome has been tricky.  I remember the early drafts of my second book where the underlying premise is based on the fact that cheetahs are the fastest runners on land. My daughter said this story was too judgemental.  So we discussed this issue: How do we make comparisons without passing judgement? To achieve this, I restructured the storyline, redistributed the dialogue and added humour, while still addressing the issue of camouflaging behaviour.

Who will benefit from these books?

Primarily, these picture books are written for young gifted and talented children, aged from 2 years to 8 or 9 years old.  They are multi-layered and designed to grow with the child. The Children’s Choice pages (at the back of each book) extend the stories by developing activities to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the child’s mind.  It was so rewarding to receive a review from two boys, aged 6 and 8 years, who are registered with Mensa in New Mexico.  The title of their review is, “Characters Just Like Me”.

They also help parents understand why a gifted child may behave like one of my cheetah cubs.  The Parents’ Pages (at the back of each book) are designed to explain why the story was written and to stimulate dialogue with the child.

The books are also being regarded as a resource tool for professionals – teachers, school counsellors, psychologists. To support their relevance for teachers, Master Educator, Dr Kathy Murray has aligned the books with The Australian Curriculum (for primary schools) and The Early Years Learning Framework (for kindergartens and early learning centres).

What advice would you offer to parents who have gifted children?

Find out what makes your child feel special.  Listen to their heart and talk to them to discover what motivates them. Create space for their creativity, their interests, and their curiosity.  Record their ideas.  Help them to smile on the inside.

The most prominent feedback from parents of gifted teenagers is that they wish these books have been available when their children were small.  I hope, in some small way, that my series of picture books will help parents grow happy, confident gifted kids.

What has been a significant encouragement to you in this journey?

I have been humbled by people around the world who have affirmed my books as filling a significant vacuum in the field of gifted and talented. People, like Stephanie Tolan, Carolyn K (Hoagies Gifted Page), Dr. Jim Delisle, Carol Bainbridge (,  Dr. Marianne KuzujanakisM.D., M.P.H., (Chair of SENG's Professional Advisory Committee, DesirĂ©e Houkema (Specialist in Giftedness and Talent Development at National Talent Centre of the Netherlands), as well as many professionals working in the field in Australia have encouraged me.  I am grateful to Royal Fireworks Press for making my stories available in USA & Canada since 2018 and Abakus Press in Turkey in 2019.  Other translations are being explored, including Holland/ Belgium and Asia.

You can view and purchase the books at a discounted price from Royal Fireworks Press