[Monday Reading] Of Grandmothers And Schools


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).


For 2022, our reading theme is #DecolonizeBookshelves2022. Essentially, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

Grandmother School (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Rina Singh Illustrated by Ellen Rooney
Published by Orca Book Publishers (2020)
ISBN: 1459819055 (ISBN13: 9781459819054) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Told from a granddaughter’s POV, a young girl excitedly asks her Aaji or grandmother to hurry as they will be late for school. The reader soon realizes that this is no ordinary school, but one especially made for grandmothers who have yet to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.

All the grandmothers are attired in their bright pink sari and are taught the basics of literacy and numeracy in the Aajibaichi Shala – or Grandmother School. The story reminded me a little bit of The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora (Amazon | Book Depository – see my review here).

Inspired by a real story, the Aajibaichi Shala was conceptualized by a local schoolteacher named Yogendra Bangar in Phangane, a remote village in India, who built a one-room school attended by 29 grandmothers.

The image above indicates that even while the men in the family regard this initiative as a waste of time and resources, this does not stop the Aajis from rejoicing in their newfound learning and the fact that they are doing something to better themselves for their own personal growth and fulfilment.

As found in the Author’s note:

As children, these grandmothers watched their brothers go to school. As mothers, they sent their own children to school. But no one gave them a chance to go to school.

I was especially struck by the joy and dignity that learning has afforded these hard-working and determined grandmothers. While there is still much that we need to do to combat illiteracy, especially among senior citizens, this is a fantastic place to begin.

Nana Akua Goes To School (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Tricia Elam Walker Illustrator April Harrison
Published by Schwartz & Wade Books (2020) ISBN: 0525581146 (ISBN13: 9780525581147). Literary Award: Winner of the 2021 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Zura has an upcoming grandparents’ day in school, and instead of being excited, there is apprehension and anxiety in her heart. While Zura thinks the world of her grandmother, originally from Ghana, she is also not unaware of how other people regard the marks in her Nana Akua’s face.

I love the image above – the intergenerational open affection between the three women is clearly evident: from Nana Akua to Maame to Zura. Nana Akua senses immediately that something is wrong with Zura who confided her worst fears to her Nana:

What if someone at school laughs at you or acts mean?

While shame has never been mentioned in the narrative, it was an unvoiced sentiment covered up with justified anxiety and hypervigilance as to how other people would react to Nana Akua’s appearance. Yet what stood out most of all was Nana Akua’s sense of dignity and pride for who she is and what her tribal marks stand for. In fact, she thought that it would make the perfect idea to share to Zura’s class during Grandparents Day.

Nana Akua conveyed this fullness of being to young Zura and her school, and thanks to her steadfastness and generosity of spirit, young readers who read this book will also now learn about Adinkra symbols and Ghanaian traditions practiced long ago. There are wondrous beauties to behold if we deliberately become aware of and actively rid ourselves of the colonial lens we use in defining and perceiving beauty.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 86/87 out of target 100

August 29, 2022 at 06:31AM Myra Garces-Bacsal