My Literacy History (a work in progress)


Peggy Semingson, Ph.D.





           emergent reader.jpg                                      

  Dr. Semingson as an emergent reader                                                an independent reader

I have always been a reader and now I teach literacy studies to teachers. I truly love what I do and am passionate about literacy learning. I believe we need to know ourselves as readers--our histories, beliefs, and our own default assumptions about literacy learning that impact our current teaching methods (for better or for worse).

Here's how it all began.  My twin sister and I were born in 1973, in Austin Texas, and grew up in Alaska during the Reagan-Thatcher cold war years, somewhat isolated from the "Lower 48" as we called it, growing up rough-and-tough, proud, and very independent. There was a kind of 'communal living' sense always present in Alaska. We showered at my aunt’s house and our water came from a nearby creek or we hauled it back in huge jugs from the local fire station. My grandma did my uncle’s laundry and sewed his clothes. My uncle, in turn, did car repair for everyone, and as small children, we helped with laundry on Saturdays at the Laundromat on the military base. My grandma often offered us practical advice, —advice that could have meant saving a finger from frostbite. For example, she would say things like, “If you lose your mittens, put your socks on your hands to keep them from freezing.” Those early lessons of family always stuck with me and even now, part of my values are a strong tendency to appreciate the ways that people work together to help each other out, without even thinking about it. We spent a deal of time at the public library in Fairbanks, Alaska and the North Pole Public Library during these early years. Everyone went to the library and we all gathered books and read together in one room. It was a quiet and peaceful time and something we all did together.



This was our long journey in a VW van from Austin to Alaska in 1975.


I would later return to Austin at age 26.


My sister and I spent part of our first three years in Kodiak Island, AK where there were three bears for every person. Bears and other animals played a prominent role in my childhood. I love to read about animals and wanted to be a zoologist at one point. The most prominent role model from my readings was Jane Goodall. I am still fascinated with primate behaviors and their high levels of intelligence and humor. We lived in a single-wide trailer there. It was hauled up on a boat. Everyday a plane arrived at 3 pm, bringing supplies and groceries to the island. Everyone went out to stare at the sky in anticipation.








Left: My mom on Kodiak Island, twin sister (on back), and myself (the thumbsucker).


Earliest Years and Family Literacy


I read in the crib—anything they gave me, brows furrowed, trying to make meaning of pictures, not yet reading, of course, but clearly intrigued by the visual stimulus of “baby books”.  My personal favorites as a toddler were the Golden Books: nursery rhymes, Tawny Scrawny Lion, etc. I cherished those classics. My twin sister and I loved Mother Goose compilations.  I was a literal reader and a questioner and was puzzled—curds and whey? Putting thumbs in pies? It didn’t make a bit of sense but it was fun to read and I liked the rhymes.


The year was 1977; formal reading instruction began with Dick and Jane and my dad reading and rereading these tales of "family life" with Dick, Jane, Spot, Sally, and friends. I was excited I could "really read" those books. In school, I remember reading sight words and basal text: Sun Up and Together We Go told tales I read at the back table with peers and the teacher. I liked reading group.


Our mother often took us to the public libraries in the various cities of Alaska we lived in: Kodiak Island, North Pole, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. The Fairbanks library was a town gathering place. The library entertained us with books, movies, and arts and crafts. At the school library in elementary school, I was allowed to wander over and check out endless books and magazines, in addition to watching old movies on the reel-to-reel projector (documentaries about Jane Goodall were my favorite) and filmstrips on the Dukane projector.  When I was a little girl, one day I proudly and matter-of-factly told my sister, “When I grow up, I’m going to be an author.”


I always had my nose in a book. Me with my step-dad when my mother was in graduate school in Eugene, Oregon. Books kept us busy while she worked on a Master's Degree in Speech Pathology in the early 80's.



High School

 In high school I read all the classics and most of the young adult section at the Tierrasanta Library, a suburb of San Diego. My sister and I read and compared thoughts on series books designed for teenage girls: Sweet Valley High, Sweet Dreams Romance, and The Girls of Canby Hall. My best friend and I read Sassy magazine (kind of an alt-Seventeen magazine), although I read my fair share of Seventeen, Teen, and more alternative, goth-music magazines: Propaganda, Carpe Noctem, and punk rock ‘Zines sold at dusty used bookstores in Pacific Beach and Adams Avenue in Kensington.  Eventually, I turned to reading philosophy and heavy-themed books: Demian by Hesse, The Stranger by Camus, and a whole lot of Latin American novels (Mario Vargas Llosa) as well as contemporary European authors.


Sometimes we are drawn to books because they are available and accessible. Some books I liked were laying around the house; In addition to YA Fiction and the classic novels I also was fascinated by books about nutrition. I think it was because I found a copy of Eat Right to Keep Fit by Adelle Davis. I learned about FDA percentages of nutrients and what minerals to combine with what. I also greatly enjoyed reading nutrition books by Dick Gregory. Even now, I think nutrition books are the right interest for me because they combine applications of science, health, and personal improvement in a concrete way!



At UCSD and UCSB, I majored in philosophy—and ended up getting my teaching certification after that. I read a lot of ancient thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, and even older than that, attempting to learn about metaphysics, ethics, and logic—my favorite topics within the field. I was haunted by the question: How should we live our lives? and Why are we here? My sister and I took a class on Herman Hesse together, I read lots of feminist poetry, and decided I would be a schoolteacher, so I could spend my afternoons and evenings writing the great American novel. I spent most of those evenings writing lesson plans. As a graduate student, intrigued by the reading process, I spent a great deal of time reading and writing about reading in writing in pursuit of the Ph.D. at U.T. Austin. I learned about blogs in 2004 and have been blogging ever since. I find blogging to be a way to be expressive in addition to being able to be multi-modal by posting photos and other images to share with others. It's nice to write for a real audience on a variety of personal and professional topics. As an academic, my personal and professional interests are overlapping, so I can write here and 'try out new ideas'.


Now: 2009/2010


What do I read? I read the internet mostly. I read children’s books, young adult novels, and I read and write about reading and writing. I spend time visiting art museums. I am a member of the Kimbell and the Amon Carter. I find the visual to be fascinating--what can be said, expressed, and "read" without words.


I am reading:

  • children’s literature and textbooks for literacy courses I teach and design

  • research methodology books about how to do research

  • informational books and articles about new literacies, technology, and education

  • Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

I am writing:

  • research-oriented articles on findings from projects

  • articles that translate research into practice

  • handouts for conference presentations

  • emails

  • ideas, to-do lists, and other ways to organize my thinking towards being productive

  • blog posts


  • Read and write more for pleasure.

  • Publish more.

  • Help others become more literate.

  • Teach best practices in literacy to teachers and future teachers.




Cultural Factors that have Impacted Me:


Many of my values are influenced by my strong sense of place from the diverse places I have lived.
I list here the places and the values that come from living there.
My family and the places I have lived have shaped me the most:





Alaska Years

  • Learned to survive, persevere, and live in harsh weather and climate conditions.

  • Winters were pretty much October-April.

  • Love of nature and the outdoors; awed by the pristiness from the low population and the expanse of the landscape.

  • Native American values permeated the culture across the state for all Alaskans. examples: potlatch, communal eating and more communal values than individualistic, music, art, culture.

  • Long days and long nights taught us adaptation to lightness and darkness.

  • Pioneer spirit in AK; admired pilots.

  • Help one another because sometimes helping each other could mean life and death (e.g., car breakdown in the middle of dark winter night or in a remote area). We always helped each other in Alaska. This is a strong survival value.

  • Harsh environments make one introspective, e.g., questioning your place in the environment, "Why am I here?"

California Years

  • Further love of nature-beach, mountains, sunshine

  • Beach culture-body image important in Southern CA coast

  • Mother took us to the mall everyday-'shopping culture'. Fashion sense.

  • San Diego Zoo. We went there every weekend. I took a strong interest in animals and wildlife.

  • Diverse viewpoints and values in So-Cal coast.

  • "Where are the palm trees?" For a while, when I moved to Texas I was concerned where all the palm trees were since they were so prevalent in CA.

  • "Spoiled" due to the fabulous San Diego weather.

  • Surfer talk from spending six years in Santa Barbara. "No way, dude, Gnarly, Rad, For sure," etc. :)

  • Entertainment industry/Hollywood sensibilities flowing out from L.A. to Santa Barbara and San Diego. Some resistance of this in SD.

  • Studied philosophy.



  • Encouraged studying, love of learning, reading and writing--libraries, philosophy, teaching, encouraged studies.

  • Texas culture as she was a native Texan-dialect and accent: "Y'all', Hon".

  • My mother, a baby boomer's '60's' values encouraged me to think for myself and resist 'corporate' type thinking.

  • My mother taught me to be patriotic (grandfather WW2 pilot in Air Force), During Gulf War and September 11, she told me repeatedly, "We are still a great country."

  • Love of poetry and art. We went to museums a lot, cultured.


  • Law enforcement background (federal agent in charge of money laundering and narcotics trafficking task forces).

  • Work ethic

  • Dart player; we spent time in some 'tough' working-class bars occasionally.

  • Encouraged studies and learning

Twin sister

  • Sometimes we seemed to be polar opposites (her: math and science; me: literature and novels).

  • Twin culture-we seem to read each other's minds and body language.

Other family members


Mild physical disability as a child (leg disability and scoliosis)

As a child, I was labeled with a mild physical disability. I had 'scoliosis' and a 'leg length discrepancy' that required that I wear severe looking orthopedic shoes. I “lost them” when I was 10 and refused to wear those ugly shoes any longer. I had to go regular physical therapy, do exercises at home, and was told at various times I would be a hunchback adult if I didn’t work hard at my therapy. At one point, I went to physical therapy at the “Alaska Crippled Children’s Center”, an unfortunate name for a facility for a sensitive child like myself! I observed my mother’s advocacy and concern for me through those years, and gained some insight into what a mother’s close involvement with her child’s “disability” looked like. At times, it seemed my mother knew more about my condition than the doctors did; one doctor told her she was a “first rate informant” and “a very keen observer” of her child. My mother joined me in physical therapy and in the swimming pool during my treatments.



Above: What I'm reading now...a YouTube video!


Above: My participation in the UTA OneBook Club: A book talk about

Bill McKibben's Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future


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