Can you guess why I love middle grade books with shy protagonists? Yes, because I was a shy kid. Shy, socially anxious, and introverted. So reading about other shy — not introverted necessarily — kids and watching them do wonderful things despite paralyzing shyness brings me a ridiculous amount of joy. It goes without saying that many of these books are my favorites ever. If you’ve got a shy kid in your life, feel free to hand them one of these books.
Best Middle Grade Books with Shy Protagonists
Here are 20 of the best middle grade books with shy protagonists:
Annie’s Life in Lists
Published: May 29, 2019
Annie’s a shy fifth grader with an incredible memory and a love of making lists. It helps her keep track of things when they can seem a little out of control, like her family, her friends, and her life in a new place.
1. An incredible memory (really, it’s almost photographic) that can get her in trouble.
2. A brother who is mad at her because he thinks she is the reason they had to move to Clover Gap, population 8,432.
4. A best friend who she is (almost) certain will always be her best friend.
5. New classmates, some of whom are nicer than others.
6. A rocky start finding her place in her new home.
The Life and Mind of Frances Pauley
Published: February 6, 2018
Eleven-year-old Frances is an observer of both nature and people, just like her idol, the anthropologist Margaret Mead. She spends most of her time up on the rocks behind her house in her “rock world,” as Alvin, her kindhearted and well-read school bus driver, calls it. It’s the one place where Frances can truly be herself, and where she doesn’t have to think about her older sister, Christinia, who is growing up and changing in ways that Frances can’t understand.
But when the unimaginable happens, Frances slowly discovers that perhaps the world outside her rugged, hidden paradise isn’t so bad after all, and that maybe–just maybe–she can find connection and camaraderie with the people who have surrounded her all along.
Original, accessible, and deeply affecting, April Stevens’s middle-grade debut about an unforgettable girl and an unlikely friendship will steal your heart.
Published: May 2, 2017
This is the story of two totally different girls—
quiet, shy, artistic Emmie
popular, outgoing, athletic Katie
—and how their lives unexpectedly intersect one day, when an embarrassing note falls into the wrong hands. . . .
All the crushes, humiliations, boredom, and drama of middle school are compressed into one surprising day in this extraordinary novel.
Simon B Rhymin
Published: March 2, 2021
Eleven-year-old Simon Barnes dreams of becoming a world-famous rapper that everyone calls Notorious D.O.G. But for now, he’s just a Chicago fifth grader who’s small for his age and afraid to use his voice.
Simon prefers to lay low at school and at home, even though he’s constantly spitting rhymes in his head. But when his new teacher assigns the class an oral presentation on something that affects their community, Simon must face his fears.
With some help from an unexpected ally and his neighborhood crew, will Simon gain the confidence to rap his way to an A and prove that one kid can make a difference in his ‘hood?
Dwayne Reed is a Chicago teacher, whose viral back-to-school music video “Welcome to the 4th Grade” took the internet by storm. His debut novel, Simon B. Rhymin’ , inspires young readers everywhere to use their voice to create change within their communities.
The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee
Published: February 5, 2019
India Wimple can spell. Brilliantly. Every Friday night, she and her family watch the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee on TV. When the Wimples suggest she enter the next Bee, India feels nothing but trepidation. She’s sure she’s not good enough―but with the support of her family, India finds the courage to sign up.
There are plenty of obstacles to reaching the finals, like Summer Millicent Ernestine Beauregard-Champion, a spoiled rich girl who isn’t afraid to step on anyone who gets in her way of winning. India also needs to overcome stage fright, shyness, and anxiety. Full of lovable characters, new vocabulary words, and more, this is the perfect spelling bee book for girls 8-12.
The whole thing seems rather calamitous to India. But with hope, hard work, and a little bit of heart, something splendiferous might be on the horizon…
Published: March 16, 2021
Shira Gordon is painfully shy. She rarely speaks and blushes at everything. And yet, when she’s alone in her room, she’ll sing and dance, dreaming she were different. So when her best friend forces her to audition for their school’s production of The Music Man, she’s mostly hoping the play will get canceled . . . but a tiny part of her hopes she’ll get in.
And she does. As a member of the barbershop quartet. Playing a dude with a mustache is not exactly her dream role, but Shira is surprised by how much she loves rehearsing with her quirky new friends. When her teacher asks her to understudy the lead role, Marian the Librarian, she reluctantly accepts.
It’s not easy to understudy Monica Manley, an eighth-grade diva who will not be upstaged. And things get even more complicated when a mysterious prankster starts playing tricks on Monica and Shira’s crush joins the cast. But something keeps Shira going, and it might just be Marian herself. Sure, Marian is a leading lady, but she’s also misunderstood, lonely . . . and shy. And if a star can be shy, then maybe, just maybe, a shy person can be a star.
Big Apple Diaries
Published: August 17, 2021
It’s the year 2000 in New York City. For 12-year old Alyssa, this means splitting time between her Puerto Rican dad’s apartment in Manhattan and her white mom’s new place in Queens, navigating the trials and tribulations of middle school, and an epic crush on a new classmate. The only way to make sense of it all is to capture the highs and lows in doodles and hilarious comics in a diary.
Then life abruptly changes on September 11, 2001. After the Twin Towers fall and so many lives are lost, worries about gossip and boys feel distant and insignificant. Alyssa must find a new sense of self and purpose amidst all of the chaos, and find the strength to move forward with hope.
Published: Amina’s Voice
A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this “compassionate, timely novel” (Booklist, starred review) from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.
Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.
Ava and Pip
Published: March 3, 2015
Meet outgoing Ava Wren, a fun fifth grader who tries not to lose patience with her shy big sister. She can’t understand why Pip is so reserved and never seems to make friends with others, and decides to use her writing talents to help her sister overcome her shyness. She writes a short story based on the girl that ruined her sister’s birthday party … but it doesn’t quite go over like she wanted it to.
Can Ava and her new friend help Pip come out of her shell? And can Ava get out of the mess she has made, and really be a real writer like she always dreamed?Great for parents, educators and librarians looking for:A heartwarming read that has messages of sisterhood, identity, and friendshipFunny books for girls ages 9 to 12A story that incorporates word play (especially palindromes!)A story with a character wants to be a writer, perfect for aspiring young authors
Hound Dog True
Published: Hound Dog True
A story about small acts of courage from the author of A Crooked Kind of Perfect.
Do not let a mop sit overnight in water. Fix things before they get too big for fixing. Custodial wisdom: Mattie Breen writes it all down. She has just one week to convince Uncle Potluck to take her on as his custodial apprentice at Mitchell P. Anderson Elementary School. One week until school starts and she has to be the new girl again. But if she can be Uncle Potluck’s apprentice, she’ll have important work to do during lunch and recess. Work that will keep her safely away from the other fifth graders. But when her custodial wisdom goes all wrong, Mattie’s plan comes crashing down. And only then does she begin to see how one small, brave act can lead to a friend who is hound dog true.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung
Published: March 16, 2021
On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.
Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura–and Yumi doesn’t correct them.
As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.
The Sun Will Come Out
Published: April 13, 2021
Twelve-year-old Bea Gelman and her best friend Frankie are planning the BEST SUMMER EVER at Camp Shalom―a sleep-away camp. But at the last minute, Frankie bows out, leaving painfully shy Bea on her own. Just talking to strangers causes Bea to break out into ugly, blotchy hives. As if the hives weren’t bad enough, Bea gets pranked by a couple of mean girls and is betrayed by someone she thought was a new friend. Bea has had enough! She decides to spend her summer in the infirmary far away from everything that’s stressing her out. No more boys (including her crush, Jeremy), no more horrible mean girls, and no more fake friends!
At the infirmary, Bea meets Harry, a boy living with a disease that’s way more intense than stress breakouts. Inspired by Harry’s strength and positive outlook, Bea decides to face her fears―in a big way. The Sun Will Come Out is a funny and heartwarming account of a shy girl’s first summer away from home, where she learns she really can do anything and that silver linings can be found just about anywhere.
Just Right Jillian
Published: February 1, 2022
Fifth-grader Jillian will do just about anything to blend in, including staying quiet even when she has the right answer. After she loses a classroom competition because she won’t speak up, she sets her mind on winning her school’s biggest competition. But breaking out of her shell is easier said than done, and Jillian has only a month to keep her promise to her grandmother and prove to herself that she can speak up and show everyone her true self.
A warm and relatable middle-grade debut novel about family, friendship, and finding the confidence to break free from the crowd and be who you truly are.
The Sweetest Sound
Published: January 2, 2018
For ten-year-old Cadence Jolly, birthdays are a constant reminder of all that has changed since her mother skipped town with dreams of becoming a singing star. Cadence inherited that musical soul, she can’t deny it, but otherwise she couldn’t be more different – she’s as shy as can be.
She did make a promise last year that she would try to break out of her shell, just a little. And she prayed that she’d get the courage to do it. As her eleventh birthday draws near, she realizes time is running out. And when a secret recording of her singing leaks and catches the attention of her whole church, she needs to decide what’s better: deceiving everyone by pretending it belongs to someone else, or finally stepping into the spotlight.
In a story filled with whimsy and hope, Sherri Winston inspires readers to embrace the voice within.
Published: Oct 6, 2020
Maureen and Francine Carter are twins and best friends. They participate in the same clubs, enjoy the same foods, and are partners on all their school projects. But just before the girls start sixth grade, Francine becomes Fran — a girl who wants to join the chorus, run for class president, and dress in fashionable outfits that set her apart from Maureen. A girl who seems happy to share only two classes with her sister!
Maureen and Francine are growing apart and there’s nothing Maureen can do to stop it. Are sisters really forever? Or will middle school change things for good?
The Amelia Six
Published: June 30, 2020
Eleven-year-old Amelia Ashford—Millie to her friends (if she had any, that is)—doesn’t realize just how much adventure awaits her when she’s given the opportunity of a lifetime: to spend the night in Amelia Earhart’s childhood home with five other girls. Make that five strangers. But Millie’s mom is a pilot like the famous Amelia, and Millie would love to have something to write to her about…if only she had her address.
Once at Amelia’s house in Atchison, Kansas, Millie stumbles upon a display of Amelia’s famous flight goggles. She can’t believe her good luck, since they’re about to be relocated to a fancy museum in Washington, DC. But her luck changes quickly when the goggles disappear, and Millie was the last to see them. Soon, fingers are pointing in all directions, and someone falls strangely ill. Suddenly, a fun night of scavenger hunts and sweets takes a nosedive and the girls aren’t sure who to trust. With a blizzard raging outside and a house full of suspects, the girls have no choice but to band together. It’s up to the Amelia Six to find the culprit and return the goggles to their rightful place. Or the next body to collapse could be one of theirs.
Finding Ruby Starling
Published: August 26, 2014
When Ruth Quayle used a special app to search for pictures of herself online, she found dozens of images of “Ruth Quayle” — and one of “Ruby Starling.”
When Ruby Starling gets a message from a Ruth Quayle proclaiming them to be long-lost twin sisters, she doesn’t know what to do with it — until another message arrives the day after, and another one. It could be a crazy stalker … but she and this Ruth do share a birthday, and a very distinctive ear….
Ruth is an extroverted American girl. Ruby is a shy English one. As they investigate the truth of their birth and the circumstances of their separation, they also share lives full of friends, family, and possible romances — and they realize they each may be the sister the other never knew she needed.
Published: March 14, 2017
Told from four intertwining points of view—two boys and two girls—the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani (hero). “Readers will be instantly engrossed in this relatable neighborhood adventure and its eclectic cast of misfits.”—Booklist
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.
They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.
Manatee’s Best Friend
Published: August 3, 2021
Becca Wong Walker may be so shy that most people at school think she doesn’t speak at all, but why should she care? She has more important things to worry about. Missy, the manatee who visits the dock in Becca’s backyard, and Becca’s only friend, hasn’t been seen for a long time. When Missy finally does return, she has a new baby with her! Becca wants to be excited, but more than ever inconsiderate boaters are speeding through the river, putting the lives of Missy and her baby in terrible danger.
One day, Becca spots a dolphin in the river too! By bonding over the dolphin and manatees, Becca finally starts to make friends at school. But when Becca takes a video that goes viral, it seems like it will be harder than ever to save the manatees… and trying might just tear Becca’s new friendships apart.
Ban This Book
Published: May 1, 2018
In Ban This Book by Alan Gratz, a fourth grader fights back when From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is challenged by a well-meaning parent and taken off the shelves of her school library. Amy Anne is shy and soft-spoken, but don’t mess with her when it comes to her favorite book in the whole world. Amy Anne and her lieutenants wage a battle for the books that will make you laugh and pump your fists as they start a secret banned books locker library, make up ridiculous reasons to ban every single book in the library to make a point, and take a stand against censorship.
There they are: 20 of the best middle grade books with shy protagonists. I know I missed a whole bunch (especially those with shy boys!) so please leave your recs in the comments.
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