Teaching Issues of Identity Through Multicultural Young Adult Literature


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Teaching Issues of Identity Through Multicultural Young Adult Literature is a well-researched Art and Humanities Thesis/Dissertation topic, it is to be used as a guide or framework for your Academic Research


This thesis is a three-part paper advocating for teaching identity in a high school English class using a blend of classic literature and contemporary multicultural young adult literature. The first section focuses on personal experiences and research illustrating the need for more multicultural literature in the English curriculum.

Teaching novels that focus on situations not relevant to adolescents or their culture leads to feelings of marginalization and disinterest in literature in general. Obstacles keep a more progressive teaching approach from happening, but teachers can overcome the obstacles by focusing on student needs.

The second section of the thesis outlines a sample unit on identity using an older novel, The Great Gatsby, with the newer multicultural young adult novel, American Street. It makes connections between a search for one’s identity as it relates to culture, race, and the American dream.

The unit analyzes the literature and gives ideas for questions and activities to enrich discussion of the novels. The third section of the thesis lists other exemplary contemporary young adult multicultural texts teachers will find useful as they seek additional opportunities to diversify their curriculum.

Each novel includes a summary as well as a brief analysis of how the novel connects to identity and how it can be included in curricula.


Growing up in Idaho, many of my friends and I lived in neighborhoods with little to no diversity, so school literature was one of our few exposures to other cultures; unfortunately, we never got further than To Kill a Mockingbird.

Our knowledge of other cultures was sorely lacking both in our lives and in the literature we studied. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when Mrs. Troyer, an innovative English teacher, had us read The Kite Runner that I experienced the thrill of stepping outside my own small-town, white, middle-class paradigm to see through the eyes of someone so different from me.

I was riveted as I read about Amir and his early years in Afghanistan and his heartbreaking journey. War in Afghanistan was a hot topic at the time, but I learned a different side to the story I never would have heard from the news.

The novel showed a sympathetic view the people of Afghanistan at a time when they were often portrayed as terrorists in the media. After I read The Kite Runner, I had a better idea of the struggle Afghani-Americans might have as a part of the larger American culture, a culture that saw theirs as a threat.

For perhaps the first time, I had some understanding and empathy for a culture outside of my small town. Until I started my student teaching at Silverado High School, a school in South Las Vegas with almost 2,500 students, I was never exposed to diverse cultures working together in one classroom.

Unfortunately, the literature of this English class was similar to the canonical literature of my own high school experience, literature filled with white male protagonists: a problem I never considered until working with a more diversified classroom.

A lack of literature by authors of color contributes to non-white students
feeling that white Western culture is the only culture worth writing or reading about. In her article, “Multicultural Literature and Young Adolescents: A Kaleidoscope of Opportunity,” Susan M. Landt argues that when students are not exposed to literature about their own culture, it “can activate feelings of marginalization and cause students to question their place within society” (694).

During my student teaching, I experienced the potential impact of multicultural texts in a classroom. I taught students from all over the world, from Korea, the Philippines, and Mexico. One of my students, a Hispanic girl, never participated in class.

She talked to her friends but would never engage with the lessons. I saw her excitement about reading for the first time when we read Crazy, Loco, a collection of short stories by Mexican-American author David Rice. Suddenly, she was speaking up during the stories to interpret words for the class or to express how accurate the story was and how similar to her own experience. For perhaps the first time ever, she identified with the characters in a story.

Previously, her culture had been pushed to the margins in our English class, but reading stories about her own culture validated her life experiences and her own identity as a member of a Hispanic community. She was excited that a book finally related to her life and showed her that white Western culture was not the only culture worth writing about.

This was one isolated incident, but it made me wonder where the novels were for the rest of my diverse students. Furthermore, I began to suspect that my white students learned more when diverse students actively participated in the class.

Minority students can feel out of place in a school whose culture may differ vastly from their own. In high school, I had a friend who was one of only a few African American students. I didn’t think about her skin color because I was used to seeing her every day. Later, I learned that she often felt out of place in public.

She was acutely aware that people watched her more closely than the white people around her. Especially at the mall, she was watched because she was seen as a higher threat for shoplifting. She grew up in the same place I did, yet had a different experience entirely and didn’t feel comfortable in her own hometown.

Her awareness that people saw her dark skin before anything else pushed aside other aspects of her identity, like her hometown or her religion, until she felt like her race was the greatest signifier of her core identity.

For my purposes in this thesis, identity includes the categories of race, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, religion, ability, and socioeconomic status. One’s identity, of course, is not limited to these categories, nor are these categories finite and known.

Identity is always fluid. One’s sense of self comes from an intersection of forces, forces, like race, that cannot be easily extricated. Still, high school students are at a moment when their identity formation is rapidly changing; they are trying to figure out who they are in relation to the world in which they move. As I discuss further in the next section, some students, especially white students are never forced to really explore their identity because their experience of who they are is reflected and affirmed constantly.

So, to help students analyze their personal identity, my thesis argues for using multicultural literature to explicitly teach identity in high school. The first section of my thesis discusses why multicultural literature is not already being utilized enough in the classroom and argues for the inclusion of more diversity. Teachers are under pressure from the administration and from parents to create lesson plans quickly and to teach effectively.

I examine obstacles to teaching about identity using literature by diverse
authors. I also argue that part of the problem involves white privilege and the difficulties of addressing race in a classroom setting.

The second section of the thesis is a proposed unit on identity using The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and American Street by Ibi Zoboi. Although the unit plan includes some activities, it is not designed with daily lesson plans, journal prompts, or quizzes.

Instead, it focuses on character identity and how identity relates to white
privilege and the American dream. Organizing the unit this way highlights the importance of themes over symbols and vocabulary. Each unit section ends with a list of other potential activities for students.

Within the section, I illustrate how characteristics of identity connect to the novels, pose questions about the points that can go deeper, and highlight what students should be examining more closely in the text.

Even if students cannot identify specifically with the characters from the novels like Jay Gatsby or Fabiola Toussaint, they can still learn about the complexities of identity from them and others in the novels.

The third section is an annotated list of other contemporary young adult novels by authors of color that teachers can utilize as additional resources either in teaching or to include in a classroom library for students’ personal reading. I chose the titles on the list so that teachers can have a workable number of novels to choose from and avoid the overwhelming search for new novels.

Each novel has a character exploring their own personal identity as they try to consolidate the different facets of their identity like culture, religion, friends, etc. Because traditional texts too often focus on men, the novels on the list are exclusively female-centric, that is, written by a woman and with a female protagonist.

Lastly, each novel on the list takes place in the United States to help the
texts be more relatable to readers. Identity is more complicated for other nationalities; however, I am focusing on how diverse cultures work within the larger culture of the United States.


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