a Houston book club

Creating a textual lineage for your daughter

Creating a textual lineage for your daughter

I first came across the idea of a textual lineage when I was a Reader’s Workshop teacher in a middle school. I was searching (and searching and searching) for books and resources that could help me support my middle school boy readers. In my searching I ran across Alfred Tatum’s Reading for their Life: (Re)building the Textual Lineages of African American Adolescent Males. In it he defines textual lineage and supplies a lot of thoughtful book selections for boys.

A textual lineage is made up of the books (and other things we’ve read) that have truly inspired who we are (or are to become) and have made a significant impact in our lives. There is hard work in creating a textual lineage, it is not simply every book you’ve ever read. A textual lineage should be those books that your daughter will truly remember when she is older, books that you and she discussed, books that lead her to other books.

For example, the first book on my own textual lineage is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This book holds a very special place in my heart for a few different reasons. When I was in elementary school I didn’t like reading and I regularly got C’s in language arts (no kidding!). It wasn’t until my 4th grade teacher implemented a reading competition (by weekly page numbers) that I really started to read. It was mostly Sweet Valley High and The Babysitter’s Club, but I discovered that reading could be… fun. When I was in 5th grade I was still reading those types of books (fine, but nothing too inspiring), when my mom gave me A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for Christmas. On the cover (it’s now a version out of print, sadly), was a picture of a girl who I thought kind of looked like me. Not only that, but it looked like a real book. It was thick and the print was small and I felt so amazing getting a book like that. Not only did this book get me to branch out from my reading comfort zone, but it also introduced me to a reading passion I’ve had ever since then: historical fiction. I think the moral of this book is: don’t be afraid to push your daughter in her reading level, abilities, and interests. Also, don’t be afraid to explain to her why you think this book will be so wonderful for her.

Another book on my textual lineage is A Diary of a Young Girl, or more widely known as the diary of Anne Frank. I liked this book when I first read it, but I lacked a lot of context. And this book is all about the context. This book truly changed my world during my first year of teaching. I was a 6th grade history teacher at a school in Philadelphia. I wasn’t prepared, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t feel prepared by my very short “boot camp” introduction to teaching, and I was floundering. My goal was to make it through the school day without crying, having a fight in my classroom or the hallway, and to generally ensure that my students survived my 90 minute period. It was exhausting, and honestly, miserable. In an attempt to actually get the kids to listen to me, I decided when we came to World War II in our very boring text book that I would substitute some of the reading with the context of a girl who was their age: Anne Frank. It went over like gangbusters. Even the boys would sit down and read. It was like a seismic shift in my classroom. Now, it wasn’t the stuff of movies, but it made a difference. I learned a very valuable lesson about teaching kids the context behind books, and introducing them to people like them from different walks of life. Thank you, Anne Frank. The lesson here: kids love to learn about people their age, no matter the situation. Introduce your girl to books about other girls in our world. Malala’s story comes to mind as another book that kids really get fired up over.

So how do you go about creating (or starting to create) a textual lineage for your daughter? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Think about the books that meant a lot to you when you were a kid. What age should you introduce them to your daughter?

2. What books has she liked in the past? Books about royal families, normal girls who do un-normal things, female scientists? etc. Make a list if you need to. Here’s what I do: I use Amazon’s “if you liked this, you’ll like that” feature all the time. It’s not always perfect, but it helps the process.

3. Consider reading many of the books with her, especially if she is young.

4. Don’t be afraid to include picture books into the mix – no matter how old she is. Picture books are special because you can literally read them side by side, and you can come back to them regularly to search out conversation ideas.

5. Regularly talk to your girl (as much as she will let you!) to learn what she is dealing with. This can help you decide on books as well.

There’s no right or wrong way to develop a textual lineage for your daughter. The true hard work comes from constantly finding and supplying her with books AND reading them yourself and discussing them with her. It doesn’t have to be a constant book club-mentality, but your interest should inspire her to keep reading.


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