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Powerful Grandmothers and the Inter-Generational Reading Tradition

Last summer, I was a reading volunteer at my local library. As a reading volunteer, my job was for students to read with me. After they completed a book, they would receive points for reading and a snack. During my time, I observed a recurring theme: children who came to the library with their grandmothers tended to be good readers. As summer concluded, I realized the power of grandmothers in teaching children how to read. This realization inspired me to write about how grandmothers support the next generation of strong readers.

One day, a black boy was ushered over to me to read a book. This third grader and I sat at the table and began reading. During our reading session, this young man read with ease. He was able to decode difficult words and answer questions about the story. I was extremely impressed with him because most children, when faced with reading difficulties, disengaged from the process. I could tell that someone instilled a love of reading into this young man.

My mother-in-law Dr. Enefaa Wosu reading to her grandsons.

After our session, he walked over to his grandmother, who was sitting in the adult section of the library. While waiting for another young person to read with, I decided to walk over and introduce myself to his grandmother. I began asking her a few questions about reading.

“What’s the secret to teaching kids to read?” I asked.

“I love reading. I read to his mother. His mother reads to him. And when he’s with me I make him read,” she said.

What she expressed was a cycle of reading, but I wanted to go deeper.

“Are you a former teacher?” I said.

“No, I just always loved reading and always kept books in my house,” she replied.

It was amazing to experience an “inter-generational reading tradition.” It began with the grandmother reading to the mother, now the mother reads to the child, and now the child is a strong reader.

After reflecting on this conversation and many conversations with grandmothers in libraries, I believe they are powerful agents in shaping the next generation of readers.

A movement seeking improve reading achievement in the Black community has to include powerful-grandmothers in it.


Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-EL is the President of The Dreamocracy Learning Lab and Founder of The Young Dreamers’ Book Club. His work focuses on creating innovative programming, content, and initiatives to inspire children to view reading as a tool to create and build their dreams. Dr. Griffin-EL’s fundamental belief is that meeting children at their dreams is a powerful way to teach them the importance of reading. Follow him on Twitter @drgriffinel