One of the wonderful things about raising introverts is that there are lots of books for every age range that totally get it. Herman Melville’s 1853 Bartleby, the Scrivener has a main character with an infamous line that is arguably the best capture of the introvert experience: “I would prefer not to.” Not that he can’t or won’t, but that he’d rather not. There are introverts like myself who interact with large groups of people for work, and then there are others who are shy and feel totally awkward. There are some who like reading, and then there are those who are into computer games, knitting, or some other solo activity. We may all have vastly different preferences, but the thing that connects all introverts is that we all periodically must say “no, thanks” because we relish our quiet time.
As Papa to an ambivert 6-year-old and a 2-year-old who is still figuring it out, I am always on the lookout for books that offer an alternative narrative to what our culture tells them is true. Adventurers don’t always have to be loud and constantly surrounded by people. Nerds can solve crimes quietly.
Books are magical portals, and no matter what kind of kid you have—introvert, ambivert, or extrovert—the 10 fictional books listed below for 8-12-year-olds will thrill them:
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
On the surface, this seems like a standard adventure story about two runaway kids, but it takes place in an introvert’s dream location: the museum! Claudia doesn’t so much run away from home as she does run to the museum, where she and her brother embark on the journey of solving a mystery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. During the journey, narrated by 82-year-old Mrs. Frankweiler, Claudia solves the crime with her knowledge of art history and displays lots of creativity involved in analyzing clues. She also starts on a path to self-discovery.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Nobody quite knows what to do with Milo, including Milo himself. Make no mistake, though—Little Milo is no reluctant hero. He sets off on a quest for adventure, which ends up being a quest to become comfortable being exactly who he is. During his quest, he discovers the joy of sitting still and reading a book as well as joyfully observing the world around him, which includes dancing food and creatures that come to life from his imagination. A lovely adventure need not involve running away. In Milo’s case, you don’t even need to leave home!
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
I love first books in a series because they introduce us to worlds and characters that later become so familiar that it feels as if they’ve always existed. While the story centers around Harry Potter, who quickly becomes the famous boy wizard, it is ultimately about a quiet and thoughtful boy named Harry who lives with a spoilt cousin and a horrible aunt and uncle. In his tiny room under the staircase, he speaks to discarded toy soldiers and initially thinks of himself as “just Harry.” When he is accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we see him grow and develop strength to quietly stand up to bullies like Draco Malfoy. Studious Hermione, who steals the show in many ways, teaches us that the answer always lies in a book and that there is no shame in being proud of who you are—a lesson Harry gradually learns himself.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline is world-weary at 12 years old. She feels belittled by adults because she is young, neglected by her parents who don’t spend as much time with her as she would like, and very annoyed by rain. She is unapologetic for who she is: a very intelligent and brave girl who sometimes talks to herself and enjoys her alone time. Coraline and her parents move into a new house, where Coraline opens a portal to an alternate reality. There exists a version of her parents who she thinks is better than what she has—but these new editions want to change her. Ultimately, she realizes that her real parents love her for being exactly who she is and that she should love her parents in the same way. There’s a daring rescue along the way, of course!
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne is certainly not shy, but she exhibits the best qualities of an introvert: constantly reading or engaged in flights of fancy and loving her alone time. She defies stereotypes and is an incredibly complex, fully-developed character from the moment she enters the story. Anne is an orphan, who at 11 years old comes to Prince Edward Island to the home of a brother and sister who thought they were getting a boy. She convinces them to let her stay, and rather than embarking on big adventures, she embraces adventures of smaller magnitudes, with delightful consequences. She is intelligent and has a good heart and active imagination. She’s extremely loyal and has no qualms telling people off. When she makes mistakes, the consequences are always hilarious because it takes her a long time to admit she was wrong. I’m sure this will remind you of a child or two you might know!
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Take a break from the lives of humans, and enter the wonderfully imaginative world of Ivan, a 27-year-old gorilla bred in captivity, who lives in a glass enclosure at the mall, where he is being watched by humans. He spends his days painting, watching television, or socializing with his two friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. Until he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family in the jungle, he has never thought about considering other perspectives. After getting to know Ruby, he starts re-evaluating things. It’s a wonderful way to introduce empathy and self-reflection and the variety of ways in which we may spend alone time.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
The first thing I love about Harriet is that she carries around a notebook and actively takes notes. A real spy doesn’t use any high tech mumbo-jumbo (step aside, James Bond!). She loves spending oodles of time alone, observing people and places. She writes down all kinds of observations in her trusty notebook. When she loses it and her friends find it, they read about the truthful yet somewhat hurtful things she has written about them, and she has to deal with the aftermath.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda is an extremely bright little girl with horrible parents, who don’t value reading and find her fascination with books very peculiar. She doesn’t have any friends, except a kind teacher who notices her appetite for stories. Sometimes, you want the joy of justice—the archetypal villains should get what they deserve at the end—and we get exactly that for the awful parents and the abusive and evil headmistress, Trunchbull. Through her reading and active imagination, Matilda discovers her powers and fights back.
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
Twelve-year-old Serafina isn’t a genius or a bookworm, but she enjoys her quiet time. She lives with her Pa behind a boiler in the basement of the opulent Biltmore Estate, where he is the maintenance man. She catches rats without so much as flinching and spends hours by herself every day at the mansion perfecting the art of invisibility by being still when everyone else is still and moving when they move. She knows about all the mansion’s hidden passageways and entrances, often using them to prowl at night. When the children at the estate start to disappear, the only one who can help is Serafina, who knows just how to solve the case!
Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Twelve-year-old Willow Chase desperately wants to fit in and have friends. She is a genius, which causes her to be accused of cheating at her new school when she aces the state exam in a record 17 minutes. While she is in the midst of regular middle school angst, her parents die in a car accident, and Willow is orphaned. She is devastated by the loss and by how confusing the world has become, and she begins to find solace in doing things in 7s. Rather than have the tragedy be the driving force in this novel, the author writes it as a happy story. We learn about how Willow finds her footing in a new world with a new family while holding on to the things that make her unique.