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Shy Charles

by Rosemary Wells


Shy Charles is about shyness and considers why people are shy and whether shyness is a virtue or vice.

Charles is as quiet as a mouse, and it doesn’t bother him one bit. His rodent parents try everything from bribery to scolding, from ballet to football, but Charles resists all of their efforts to make him become more outgoing. It isn’t until he is faced with the emergency of an injured babysitter that he springs into action and saves the day, only to revert to his shyness when his parents return.

Read aloud video by VarietyBooks All

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Shy Charles is a story about shyness. Charles is stalwart in his “shyness” despite the actions of the adults around him. He is perfectly happy keeping company with himself.

The definition of shyness is hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it is a learned behavior that people use as a coping mechanism. Shyness can also be described as an emotion, an unconscious way of dealing with situations. Shyness has been attributed to both nature and nurture. If we are born shy, then it is an integral part of our being. If it is a learned behavior, it might be a result of the child’s cultural background or family environment. Some children only exhibit shyness in certain situations, such as when they have to meet new people, speak in front of a group, or go to a new school.

Maturity often fosters change. But sometimes the condition of shyness has duration–it is not a passing phase. Some children never outgrow their shyness but do learn to cope with it. Maturity often times brings more confidence, both socially and verbally. Tolerance on the part of adults is called for when shyness persists. If shyness is a rational, chosen behavior, then maturity won’t bring change. Sometimes it’s hard for extroverts to realize that shy people don’t need constant interaction with others in order to be fulfilled.

When name-calling occurs, there is always a question of whether it is ethical. There are many motivations for calling people names. The name-caller may feel that his action is for the person’s own good. Name-calling by a loved one may occur as a result of frustration; this tactic may be used in an effort to try to motivate the object of the name-calling to change a behavior. As in Charles’s case, the name-calling by his father appears to cause anger, resentment, and shame.

Sometimes we define duty as the moral obligation to do good. If a person needs help, we may feel it is our duty to help that person in need. Generally, we would like to be helped in similar circumstances. Children are capable of fulfilling moral obligations. It should be pointed out that if one is a child, and is asked to help, the circumstances involved may preclude action if there is a possibility of victimization. It can be pointed out that it may be preferable for the child to enlist another adult’s help in certain situations.

We use the word “hero” loosely in our society. Sometimes children consider sports figures and movie stars as heroes because they appear to be “larger than life” in their actions. Perhaps some fit the bill. Heroes sometimes perform acts that involve courage and nobility. There is a hero in each of us. Helping another person can sometimes be difficult, especially if one has to overcome feelings of shyness in order to act. Performing one’s duty under difficult conditions can be gratifying, certainly more gratifying than walking away and not helping. Heightened feelings of self-worth and success can result from helping another.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

The Nature of Shyness

Charles’ parents are worried that Charles is so shy.

  1. What is shyness? What does it mean when you say someone is shy?
  2. Are you ever shy? When?
  3. Do you feel good or bad when you’re shy?
  4. Do you choose to be shy, or is shyness a feeling that just comes over you?

When Charles hides in the flour sack instead of saying good-bye to Mrs. Belinski, she says, “Good-bye with kisses. Someday when he’s big he’ll kiss me back.”

  1. What does Mrs. Belinski mean when she says that Charles will act differently someday when he’s big?
  2. Do you think you will act differently when you grow up?
  3. What does it mean to grow up?
  4. If you are shy when you are young, will you want to be shy when you grow up?
  5. Should shyness go away?

Shyness and Morality

When Charles doesn’t want to play football, his dad calls him names.

  1. Have you ever been called names?
  2. How does it make you feel?
  3. Have you ever called people names? Why?
  4. Is calling people names ever a good thing to do?
  5. Was Charles’ dad wrong to Charles names?
  6. Why do you think Charles’s dad thought that calling Charles names would be a good thing to do for Charles?

Charles’s babysitter, Mrs. Block, falls down the stairs. Charles helps her.

  1. How does Charles help Mrs. Block?
  2. Have you ever helped someone?
  3. How can you tell if someone needs help?
  4. Do you think it’s ever OK not to help someone who seems to need help?
  5. Can a person ever be too shy to help someone in need? If so, is that wrong for the person not to help, even if they are very shy?

Everyone calls Charles a hero after he helps Mrs. Block.

  1. What is a hero?
  2. Does being a hero mean that you are brave?
  3. Can you be shy and still be a hero?
  4. Can doing something heroic when you are shy make you even braver?
  5. Was Charles brave for helping Mrs. Block? Was he a hero?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Marty Rhodes Figley. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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Back to All Books Cover image for Shy Charles featuring an illustration of a mouse in overalls and roller skates skating past another mouse in glasses and a dress. The mouse in a dress is behind a fence and the skating mouse is on the sidewalk. The skating mouse is covering its face because it is shy. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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