We Recommend: Books with Shy Characters

It's back to We Recommend, in which we attempt to match kids up with their perfect book. Got a kid in your life who needs a recommendation? Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good suggestions are in the comments, so be sure to look there!

Well, let's all stagger back from our various holiday indulgences and start thinking about books, shall we? Starting with this wistful request:

I'm looking for chapter books that deal with the subject of shyness and features a girl character. I have a second grade girl who is shy, quiet and loves to read. It seems that books for girls around this age have a lot of outrageous outgoing characters (Judy Moody, Clementine) and I think they're fun but yesterday we were talking about about shyness, how people see her as shy and she didn't like it. I was trying to say that some of us are just quiet and observe the action a little more before jumping in, and it's good to have more people in the world who are listeners, etc etc. I'd love it if she could see a good girl character in a book that deals with this well. It's not that I want to encourage her to stay "shy" but I'd love if she could see more of her qualities in a positive light in another girl. Girls with a quiet strength? Any ideas?

Interesting, no? Most general views of the shy and the bookish—well, let's just say if there was a Venn diagram involved it would have a lot of overlap. But shy characters as the main characters in kids books? That's a little more difficult, mostly because just like in regular life, shy people are not so good at grabbing our attention. Which is sort of what you want a book to do, no? So really, the shy girl books tend to work in one of two ways (how's that for a bullshit made up belief I just came up with?): either the shy narrator has a rich inner life to which we are privy, with lots of luminous/incisive visions of the world around them (think of Laura in the Little House on the Prairie Books, who talks often about her paralyzing fear when she goes into town and has to see and talk to people),  or, in the grand tradition of the seminal Ramones film Rock 'n' Roll High School, they have to have a PJ Soles to match the…whatever the shy girl's name was. Shy girl is matched with outgoing girl, so the story moves along but we are also able to experience shy person's vulnerability/sensitivity. Something like The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (oh how I love that book!). Or, for a sweet second grader like the one described above? This:

Here's what is sad: I don't remember which one of these girls is the shy one. But I know that one of them is! And what's particularly nice is that these books don't equate shyness with goodness or sweetness; they let the shy person have her own strong character, despite her reticence. And there isn't judgment of the "shy is better" or "why don't you just go introduce yourself!" varieties, simply description. One kid is one way, another is different, this is how they are in the world. Oh! Also Betsy-Tacy would work; Tacy is so shy!

But enough from us. Come on, all you shy ones—we know you're out there. What have you got for this girl to read?

16 thoughts on “We Recommend: Books with Shy Characters

  1. Definitely Betsy-Tacy. It was the first thing that popped to mind. And how about Understood Betsy? Although that’s more of a “shy girl comes out of her shell” sort of story.


  2. Erika beat me to it – Understood Betsy – and while she understands her strength, she is still a reserved little girl which I think would be supportive for a child who is shy.


  3. I’ve been described as shy many a time, especially when I was a child–when I was about your daughter’s age I remember reading a book callled The Shy Little Girl by Phyllis Krasilovsky (I had to look up that name by the way, it wasn’t stored in my memory.) The plot details are pretty sketchy in my mind, but I think as the book opens the little girl is very lonely, she doesn’t know how to get others to play with her, but then she makes a friend.
    Trina Schart Hyman did the illustrations, which is the main reason I still remember this book. Unfortunately, it is out of print 😦


  4. I also thought of Besty-Tacy. I read it for the first time recently, and was struck by the description of Tacy’s shyness. I was exactly like that when I was little, and my younger son is like that now, so to read about a character who is the same way is very comforting. I think that in a book written today she would be “cured” of her shyness somehow.


  5. The book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett popped to mind, but it’s been so long since I read it that I can’t remember if it’s the main character or one of her male friends who is shy.
    Beth in Little Women is a classic example of a shy character who is beloved and exists beyond that characteristic. I’m not sure if that book might not be a bit old for a second grader, but then again it all depends on the individual reader.


  6. I thought of The Secret Garden too. My kids LOVED the Ivy and Bean series – my outgoing son loved Bean and her braveness, my shy daughter admired Ivy, who is queit but also smart, witty, and mischievous.


  7. Justin Case is a really wonderful book although its about a shy/anxious boy. My son read it in second grade and really enjoyed it.


  8. My absolute first thought was Betsy-Tacy. I was just talking to someone about that today and got all worked up about Betsy again. Swoon.
    Secret Garden doesn’t work for me because she’s not just shy, she’s sort of quietly rebellious. In my head, anyway.


  9. Harriet the Spy isn’t shy, but her friend Beth-Ellen is. I vote for the Long Secret because Beth-Ellen is the main focus of that book and Fitzhugh does a great job with it. Ellen is a very shy and quiet person with a lot going on inside of her.


  10. “I agree, per Mary in the Secret Garden not being shy, exactly. Small, sour and furious more, but not shy.” Yes, exACTly. You nailed it.


  11. How about the Melendy books by Elizabeth Enright? I don’t recall which of the four siblings was shy and had a strong inner life, but I was that sort of girl and I remember identifying strongly with the books.
    Similarly in siblings, there’s Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, which features the imaginative and quiet Titty, but those may be too old for her yet.


  12. Violet of the early The Boxcar Children was also very, very shy. I think Gertrude Chandler Warner wrote the first 19 or 20 books, so be careful when you choose them. The newer stories weren’t written by GCW and Violet isn’t nearly as shy in those.


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