Teaching YA Novels with Multiple Perspectives
By Kasey Short
Novels with multiple narrators enrich opportunities for content instruction and social emotional learning while also being really engaging and fun for students to read.
These books earn the attention of students because they have multiple characters to connect to, the alternating story lines captivate readers, and the complexity of the stories mirrors the complexity of real life where there are often multiple voices and perspectives in a situation.
Some books with multiple narrators show different ways that characters are reacting to and impacted by the same situation. Other books introduce characters occupying multiple times and spaces and then bring them together to show how they connect.
Both formats encourage the reader to consider various viewpoints around the same or a connected situation. This often showcases the nuance of a situation and encourages the reader to think about things in shades of gray instead of black and white. Students develop empathy and understanding as they examine how a character’s situation, history, perspective, and more all impact their world view and ultimately their story.
These books (see my suggestions below) also enhance reading comprehension and critical thinking skills as students must keep track of different voices, points of view, and plotlines throughout the book. As they organize and analyze the various perspectives within the story, they also must make connections between them to determine the themes.
1. Which narrator do you most identify with in the story? Explain what makes you connect to that character. How does your connection impact your reading?
2. What are key elements about each of the narrators that impact their perspective. Consider their experiences, history, family, how others see them, how they see themselves, etc.
3. How are the narrators alike and how are they different? How does this impact their actions in the story?
4. If you could tell each of the narrators something about another character to help them better understand them, what would you tell them?
5. What do you think the various narrators agree and disagree about?
6. What do you think causes different characters to react to similar situations differently?
► Comic Strip: Create a comic strip that shows the different narrators interacting with each other. Use what you know about them to create realistic interaction.
► Character Timeline: Create a timeline for each character, plotting key events and experiences in their lives. (This visual representation can help students understand how a character’s past shapes their current perspective and actions.)
► Group Discussions: Divide the class into small groups, with each group focusing on a specific character. Have them discuss the story from that character’s viewpoint, exploring how the events and other characters are seen through their eyes. Then bring the groups together for a larger discussion where they can share their findings about all the characters.
► Character Interviews: Students work in groups to conduct interviews of the various characters and then examine the similarities and differences in the answers they’ve devised.
► Role Reversal: Students examine a scene that is told from one character’s perspective and then recreate the scene from the perspective of a different character who’s not represented in that situation.
► Debate: Students take on the role of different characters and debate different events/circumstances/viewpoints in the story based on their character’s perspective.
The Lost Year by Katherine Marsh
This book showcases three distinct perspectives across time and place: Matthew who is navigating the Covid lockdown in 2020 and connecting with his great grandmother; then two cousins in the 1930’s, one living in New York City who desperately wants to help her cousin Mila who is starving during the Holodomor, the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians. This emotional and powerful story is ultimately about family, survival, and hope while teaching readers about a little-known time in history.
Wildoak by C. C. Harrington
This book alternates between two perspectives, a young girl who struggles to speak due to her stutter and is sent to live with her grandfather, and an abandoned snow leopard cub. As Maggie struggles to find her voice and the snow leopard struggles to survive, they cross paths and find comfort spending time together. Ultimately Maggie finds her voice to speak up for her new animal friend who can’t speak for herself.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Alternating between two distinct perspectives, written by two authors, this book tackles the impact of racial tension, bias, and police brutality on a community and on individuals. The two characters are teen boys: Rashad, a Black teen who was beaten by a cop who mistakenly thought he was shoplifting, and Quinn, a white teen who was raised by a cop and witnessed the incident.
Global by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano
This graphic novel is written by two authors and alternates between the two perspectives of boys who are dealing with the impact of the climate crisis. Yuki lives in Northern Canada where the warming temperatures have caused polar bears to wander into town to hunt for food, catching him in a dangerous situation. Sami lives in village near the Indian Ocean where his family’s livelihood and very lives are at risk due to flooding and rising sea levels.
Mascot by Traci Sorell and Charles Waters
This novel in verse is written by two authors and told from the viewpoints of six middle school students who are navigating a debate about whether the school should change its mascot to no longer use indigenous people and their culture and traditions as school symbols. The book shows varying viewpoints on this issue and encourages the reader to think about human rights, community, Native Sovereignty, racism, friendship, and more.
Your Heart My Sky by Margarita Engle, Enter the Body by Joy McCullough, A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan, Takedown by Laura Shovan, Team Chu and the Epic Hero Quest by Julie C. Dao, Refugee and Ground Zero by Alan Gratz, Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani, Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman, Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart, Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, Pax by Sara Pennypacker, The CandyMakers by Wendy Mass, and A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi.
Kasey Short (@shortisweet3) is the Middle School Director of Studies and an 8th Grade English Teacher and Advisor at Charlotte (NC) Country Day School. Kasey loves to share ideas from her classroom and her leadership roles and writes frequently for MiddleWeb. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a bachelor of arts in middle school education with a concentration in English and history. She went on to earn a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University.