Counter-Storytelling and Ethnicity in Twenty-First-Century American Adolescent Historical Fiction

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Spring 2014


Despite the ongoing work of the multicultural movement that started in the 1980s, publishing houses and education curricula continue to marginalize ethnic American children's literature. The most recent report from the Cooperative Children's Book Center, which annually tracks the numbers of children's books published in the United States written by and about ethnic Americans, reveals that less than eight percent of the books they received in 2012 were about African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Latinas/os. Secondary education exasperates this minuscule representation with their reliance on the adolescent historical fiction genre. The most recommended historical fiction in middle schools portray social issues in conservative strategies, such as downplaying tragedy and historical racial tensions, emphasizing the nation as forward progressive, and privileging white characters. These narratives marginalize ethnic cultures' historical roles, create cultural and national solipsism, and silence other constructions of identity. Therefore, my dissertation examines contemporary historical fiction about ethnic American cultures as counter-stories to dominant cultural myths based on white privilege. My project provides a case study of nine contemporary historical fictions featuring American Indians, Asian Americans, and Latinas/os. Using Critical Race Theory and Whiteness Studies supplemented with TribalCrit, LatCrit, AsianCrit, and children's literature scholarship, I consider each narrative's potential as a counter-story, discuss their perpetuation or contestation of white privilege, and examine the degree to which the texts offer the implied ethnic reader models of resistance to systematic oppression. As my research reveals, white privilege still plagues children's literature and ethnic narratives that satisfy counter-storytelling agendas are far too few.


Susan L. Stewart

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature