Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


School of Education


This dissertation uncovered the ways through which culturally relevant young adult literature (YAL) engenders empathy for immigrants in middle grade readers. Empathy was displayed through both affective and cognitive responses and resulted in mirror and window moments (Bishop, 1990) as well as crystallizing experiences. Their empathetic responses led students to apply critical literacy skills to issues related to stereotypes, racism, discrimination, and immigration policies.

I conducted a qualitative case study to examine the ways in which reading and discussing YAL about immigrants created empathy in eighth graders in a culturally and linguistically diverse middle school and in what ways it promoted their critical thinking about immigration. I conducted classroom observations, document analysis of student assignments, and student interviews. With a critical literacy lens, I coded the data to discover the reasons behind the students' empathetic responses.

The study revealed that students' strongest empathetic responses came when they related to the experiences of the characters. While past studies on culturally relevant YAL focused on areas of relevance described by Ebe (as cited in Hickey & Hopenwasser, 2013), these students responded more to experiences they could relate to, such as dealing with siblings, bullies, or losing a family member. Another new finding of this study adds to Bishop's (1990) work on mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Participants in this study saw themselves or their immigrant parents reflected in the book, but the books also expanded their understanding of what they already knew. The books acted like prismatic crystals, both reflecting and refracting their experiences. Furthermore, just as a crystal is defined as a solid with a particular atom structure, it was also the internal structure of these novels (i.e. the way the authors wrote) that clarified the students' understanding and created crystallizing experiences for them.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.