“What does introvert mean?” my then five-year-old daughter asked me at bedtime.
Earlier that day, her little brother had entertained the supermarket checkout line with knock-knock jokes and preschool stories. One customer looked at my daughter, who was quietly observing the scene, and said, “Looks like she’s your shy one!”
“More of an introvert,” I gently corrected.
Temperament — a person’s nature or personality, especially relating to their behavior — is largely a natural part of who a person is from the time they were born. A person’s temperament falls somewhere on the scale between introversion and extroversion. Introverts tend to be quiet, cautious, thoughtful, and more sensitive to their environment. Extroverts tend to think out loud, draw energy from being with other people, and readily try something new. An ambivert is a balance of both types.
One temperament type is no better than any other. Both introverts and extroverts can be kind, responsible, brave and hard-working. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking has helped me, as a parent and a teacher, think more carefully about the needs and strengths of children on the introverted side of the scale.
For instance, introverts are often great listeners and observers — skills that can strengthen empathy and the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Yet when people use a word like “shy” to describe an introverted child, it rarely has a positive ring to it.
So that night, when my daughter asked me about the word introvert, I thought carefully about how to answer her.
“If someone is an introvert,” I said, “it means they sometimes watch before jumping in to a new activity — like if there’s a new game at recess, you might want to see how people play it before you start playing. Introverts are good listeners and observers — they notice lots of details about people. After a busy day at school, they might want some quiet time or alone time.”
“Is it a good thing?” she asked.
“It’s one way to be,” I responded. “And it’s a great way to be.”
“Phew,” she said, “because that sounds a lot like me.”
I recently reached out to Cain to hear her thoughts about using children’s books as a tool to help kids (and adults) better understand temperament. After all, reading aloud to kids supports their cognitive, emotional, social and character development.
“Children’s literature (and all children’s media) is an incredible way to illustrate the strengths of an introverted temperament,” said Cain. She notes that this is best done through characters who happen to embody these attributes — not through “characters explicitly labeled shy or introverted.”
“Because so many authors are introverts, many protagonists also are,” said Cain. “I attribute a lot of my self-confidence to having grown up an avid reader with these protagonists for role models. From Meg in A Wrinkle in Time to Harriet in Harriet the Spy, these characters are everywhere!”
Here are a few more wonderful read alouds that feature brave, delightful, curious, creative and, yes, introverted main characters.
Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty (author) and David Roberts (illustrator)
After publishing Iggy Peck, Architect, author Andrea Beaty found inspiration in David Robert’s illustrations for her book. As she told an interviewer, “I was drawn to one girl, and realized that David never showed both of her eyes at once. I started imagining she was the smartest kid in the class, but she was introverted and tried to remain invisible. I wanted to know what her story was — and then realized I wanted to make her an engineer.” Another book to check out is Beaty’s Ada Twist, Scientist.
Shh! We Have a Plan, by Chris Haughton
In this simple picture book, four friends walk into a forest and spot a beautiful bird. Each one has a different idea about how to catch it — and it is the quiet, observant friend who finally figures out the solution.
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson
The other bulls in the field are eager to participate in the bullfight, but Ferdinand is happy spending time under a tree, enjoying the flowers. After an accident of fate puts him on center stage in Madrid, he remains true to himself.
The Mouse Scouts series, by Sarah Dillard
Violet, the “quietest mouse at the meeting,” is a creative thinker, careful observer and good friend to the other scouts in her troop, which includes mice of many different personalities who rely on each other’s strengths to tackle scouting challenges.
The Magic Tree House series, by Mary Pope Osborne
In these early chapter books, a brother and sister adventure through time. Annie tends to leap before looking, comfortably approaching any stranger for information. Jack takes a more cautious approach, using books in the treehouse library to gain context and writing down clues to help them solve their mysteries. Their contrasting temperaments complement each other beautifully.
The Frog and Toad series, by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad are good friends with different temperaments who find strength, comfort, and balance in their companionship.
Matilda, by Roald Dahl
In the book, on the screen and on the stage, Matilda is a beloved heroine — a voracious reader who is misunderstood by everyone but her kind teacher. Matilda quietly uses her imagination and creativity to outwit a treacherous principal and find a better life for herself.
In addition, you can find a number of characters on PBS KIDS who are introverts: George and Fern from Arthur, Lila from Pinkalicious and Peterrific!, Alpha Pig in Super Why!, Shiny from Dinosaur Train and more!