October 04

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Where Are the Introverts–in Your Books and in Your Classroom by Donna Gephart

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Or something in between? An ambivert?

Before researching for my book, Abby, Tried and True, I’d have told you I’m an extrovert with a sprinkle of introvert thrown in for good measure. 

Was I ever wrong!

After reading articles and watching Susan Cain’s wildly popular 2012 TedTalk, The Power of Introverts (nearly 27 million views), I discovered I might as well have a neon sign flashing across my forehead: “Stay back, people; I need my quiet space!”

Why did I consider myself an extrovert then? 

Because we’re supposed to be extroverts. It’s prized and rewarded in our culture. The most charismatic person in a group, according to Susan Cain, is the one who is listened to and followed, even though there’s zero evidence that person has the best ideas. In fact, there’s research proving introverts are the best ones to lead a group, because they tend to step back and allow people’s talents and abilities to shine, rather than inserting themselves and their own ideas into the process.

To be clear, being an introvert doesn’t mean being shy – which is a fear of social judgement. Being an introvert means, among other things, that you thrive and create best in solitude.

Because I love traveling and meeting new people, I assumed I was an extrovert. But part of what I loved about traveling was the quiet time on planes and in hotel rooms with no distraction where I could go deeply inward, listen to podcasts and read books and enjoy the space to think and reflect. When I met people, I wanted to dive into meaningful, substantive conversations, not talk about the weather or latest sports scores. These traits, I learned, are signifiers of being an introvert.

As a writer, I’d been advised not to write “quiet” books, whatever that means. But I wanted to explore a quiet character with a loud mind – one who had a lot of thoughts and feelings bubbling below the surface. Stephen Hawking once wrote, “Quiet people have the loudest minds.” 

Abby Braverman is a deeply sensitive introvert, who has one good friend with whom she shares her hopes and fears, so it’s a crisis when that friend moves to another country. I realized I was like Abby growing up – one or two close friends with whom I shared everything that I’d feel bereft without. Abby processes her emotions through poetry. I created meaning and understanding of my world and my place in it through writing poems and stories. 

How could I not have realized I was an introvert, someone who preferred the quiet of a good book or a notebook and pen and the company of her own thoughts?

According to Susan Cain, one-third to one-half of the population are introverts. Extrapolate that to a classroom setting and that’s up to 50% of your students. What do introverts need to thrive? Less group work and more autonomy, solitude and opportunity to spend time in their own heads.

I wanted to make sure Abby’s character arc wasn’t one of going from introvert to the more popular extrovert. Life is more complicated and nuanced than that. Her arc is realizing her internal strength because she’s an introvert. Through interactions with her seriously ill brother, her two moms, her best friend (now 6,584.2 miles away) and her first sweet, sensitive boyfriend, Abby discovers the power of being exactly who she is. Like her pet turtle, Fudge, Abby learns to poke her head out of her protective shell beautifully exactly when she needs to.

Growing up, I did the same. I still do. And I love reading about people like me in books like, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech and A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. It makes sense that I created a character who embodies the quiet strength of an introvert in Abby Braverman from my new novel Abby, Tried and True.

So, after reading this essay, do you think you’re an introvert, an extrovert or maybe an ambivert (a combination of the two)? Take this quiz to find out: https://www.quietrev.com/the-introvert-test/ and then consider the quiet power of introverts in the books on your shelves and in your classroom.

Pre-order a personalized, autographed copy of Abby, Tried & True and a pack of tissues to go with it at Inkwood NJ. Check out Donna’s The Paris Project for a MG novel about parental incarceration and financial insecurity set in the tiny town of Sassafras, Florida. Go Be Wonderful (Holiday House, 3/21) is Donna’s first picture book. For free reading guides and other resources, visit www.donnagephart.com.

Award-winning author Donna Gephart’s middle grade novels include: The Paris Project, In Your Shoes, Lily and Dunkin, Death by Toilet Paper, How to Survive Middle School and others. She’s a popular speaker at schools, conferences and book festivals. Donna lives in the Philadelphia area with her family and her canine office assistant, Benji, a sweet retriever mix. Visit her online at http://www.donnagephart.com.