Working at a public library, a very common request I get is my picks for best picture books for shy kids. It can be such a touchy subject to address with a child, as being watched or “on show” can make them feel even more self-conscious. So, how do you support a shy kid without making them feel judged? Well, of course, it helps to learn more about what shyness actually means, but another way is to show your children examples, and that is where this list of suggested titles comes in. I chose these eight books because I think they are some of the best ones covering the topic, where their behaviour is appreciated and explained without shaming. Within these books, the characters act in ways that are related to their being shy, socially anxious, and/or introverted–but the text also portrays the kids as being special with valid interests and unique ways of looking at the world.
In fact, part of why I selected these books is that they don’t overuse the word shy in the text because that can be a label that makes kids self-conscious. For instance, while characters in A Way With Wild Things refer to Poppy as a wallflower, she argues back that she’s a wildflower because of her strong connection with nature. I love that, personally, as kids should be able to choose their own descriptors.
Shy Willow by Cat Min
This is a very sweet story about a little rabbit named Willow who lives in an abandoned mailbox. She avoids noise and being outside among others, preferring to spend time by herself. When a piece of mail finds its way into her otherwise unused box, she realizes it won’t get to where it needs to be unless she goes out and finds the sender. This journey guides her bravely into a new friendship. The art is lovely, with a colour palette that basically makes the illustrations glow. It’s a perfect bedtime story for shy kiddos.
A Tiger Called Tomás by Charlotte Zolotow and Marta Álvarez Miguéns
This is a new edition of an older book, 1963’s A Tiger Called Thomas. Tomás has moved to a new neighbourhood and he is so shy that he rarely goes out and just sits on his stoop. His mother tries to encourage him to go meet people, but Tomás just repeats that they probably wouldn’t like him. When his mother gets him a tiger costume and mask for Halloween, he finally feels like he is able to go out incognito–only to discover everyone already knows who he is and likes him!
Wallpaper by Thao Lam
An almost wordless picture book, Thao Lam’s paper collage style is used to beautiful and breathtaking effect in this story of a shy girl who uses her imagination to pass the time she spends alone in her room. After befriending an imaginary monster and having an adventure together, the girl musters enough confidence to greet the children and make some friends.
David Jumps In by Alan Woo and Katty Maurey
A sensitive and thoughtful story about a boy adjusting to his first day at a new school. The writing is simple but detailed (“he had no friends to hang out with or trade tuna fish sandwiches”), allowing child readers to put themselves into similar situations. Eventually, he steps up and asks some kids to play, and his victory feels both relatable and heartwarming.
Gustavo, the Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago
Gustavo, a shy yet adorably rosy-cheeked ghost, wants to be brave and make friends with his town’s fellow monsters. He can’t help but go extra translucent when he is feeling nervous, and, well, the other monsters make him super nervous. Then, he decides to rally himself and make friends with the others by inviting them to hear him play the violin on the Day of the Dead. So charming you won’t be able to stand it!
Where Is Bina Bear? by Mike Curato
Bina Bear is incredibly shy and doesn’t like going to parties, but she goes to one anyway to see her friend Tiny. Bina’s attempts to blend into the room are funny and engaging–her sturdy stature makes her a great stand-in for a couch, a bookshelf, and other furniture–but Curato’s text also gives space to Bina’s real feelings of social anxiety. It’s a good interactive text for kids as well, as they can help you locate Bina on each page.
A Way With Wild Things by Larissa Theule and Sara Palacios
With slightly more detailed prose, this is one for older kiddos. Poppy prefers chatting with bugs over people, going so far as camouflaging herself against carpets and paintings when people come to her house. The art is vivid and full of texture, and the story makes sure readers understand Poppy’s nervousness around people.
Wallflowers by Mackenzie Joy
This book has a wonderful message for shy kids: you don’t need to force yourself to be louder; people need to become better listeners. The text is minimal and positive, full of affirmations that celebrate. There is no story here, just a series of statements that will empower and encourage.
For more books that address kids’ big feelings, check out 8 Children’s Books About Feelings and 23 Children’s Books About Emotions For Kids With Big Feelings.