Tag Archive for summer

My Favorite Children’s Books

One of our favorite things to do dur­ing the long sum­mer days at home is to read. We like to read through­out the year, but we des­ig­nate more time dur­ing the sum­mer for read­ing because we are home almost every day, we like it, and it’s a good skill to prac­tice and learn. It also fos­ters bond­ing, con­fi­dence, and independence.

One thing we did for the first time last year was par­tic­i­pate in a cou­ple of sum­mer read­ing pro­grams. Our local library always has a sum­mer read­ing pro­gram. They par­tic­i­pate in the State of Texas’ Library Association’s read­ing pro­gram. This year, the theme is “Get a Clue…at the Library.” Last year the theme was “Dig Up a Good Book.” Both Pey­ton and Eliz­a­beth, with my help, read 100 books dur­ing the month of July. I don’t know about you, but that is A LOT of books to read for one month (25 per week), and since I was help­ing both of them read, that was dou­ble for me! But, we all per­se­vered, (some­what begrudg­ingly by the end), and the kids felt so much pride in hav­ing read so many books and com­pleted the pro­gram. They espe­cially liked the cel­e­bra­tion at the end where they earned cer­tifi­cates and prizes. They were suc­cess­ful con­sumers of lit­er­acy, or “lit­er­acy win­ners” as I call it in a recent arti­cle pub­lished by CCC.

Other com­pa­nies like Barnes and Noble and Scholas­tic also have sum­mer read­ing pro­grams that often offer free books or incen­tives for kids who par­tic­i­pate. All in all, these pro­grams can moti­vate kids to read, encour­age par­ents to read with their kids and older sib­lings to read to younger sib­lings, and get you through the “I’m bored” talk of the long sum­mer days.

For today’s 12 series, I am going to list my favorite children’s books. Children’s books are both visual and ver­bal, beau­ti­ful in words and in art, and I really, really like them, espe­cially as a teacher of writ­ing and mul­ti­modal com­po­si­tion (using words and images and other modes together to make mean­ing). I have a lot of favorites, but these are the ones that top my list right now.

1. How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You by Jane Yolen. This book is silly and fun to read. It’s also poetic and clever, espe­cially for ram­bunc­tious chil­dren. My son Pey­ton had it mem­o­rized after the 4th or 5th read­ing and loves read­ing it as we go to bed. (Also, check out How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? and other titles int he series)

2. There Is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems. I dis­cov­ered Mo Willems last sum­mer dur­ing our read­ing extrav­a­ganza, and I enjoy many of his books. My kids laughed out loud at this book and most of the oth­ers we read. This spe­cific title is part of the Ele­phant and Pig­gie series about two friends expe­ri­enc­ing life together. He has another series about a pigeon, and the kids liked those, too. I highly rec­om­mend this witty author. Both the words and pic­tures will crack you up.

3. The Pen­cil by Allan Ahlberg. Cre­ative, sus­pense­ful, and fun to read. It will keep your kids atten­tion and keep them guess­ing through­out the entire book about what would hap­pen next.

4. The Beren­stain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Beren­stain. We like so many of the Beren­stain Bears books, but I listed this one because of our recent empha­sis on sim­pli­fy­ing and de-cluttering and “less is more”. Last sum­mer, Eliz­a­beth only wanted to check out these books.

5. Ox-Cart Man by Don­ald Hall. I had the joy of hear­ing Don­ald Hall give a won­der­ful pre­sen­ta­tion a few years ago when he came to Bay­lor as part of the Beall Poetry Fes­ti­val, which the Eng­lish Depart­ment here puts on every Spring. My chil­dren love this book. It’s a sweet story about a hard-working fam­ily who lives on a farm and makes their liv­ing by work­ing with their hands. It’s sim­plic­ity at its best. The images are evoca­tive and the mes­sage is sim­ple, yet pro­found. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

6. The Run­away Gar­den: A Deli­cious Story That’s Good for You, Too! by Jef­frey Schatzer. This book is about a gar­den that runs away and what hap­pens to the indi­vid­ual veg­eta­bles as a result. This book con­tains a lot of lit­er­ary devices, includ­ing homonyms and puns, which make it fun for older chil­dren as well as adults. And I always like books about food.

7. Sir Cum­fer­ence and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwan­der. What a fas­ci­nat­ing, orig­i­nal book. The author has sev­eral books in the series and I rec­om­mend them all. This book teaches math terms (radius, pi, cir­cum­fer­ence, diam­e­ter) in a very cre­ative way. You def­i­nitely should check it out (my daugh­ter didn’t like it as much as my son because “it’s a boy book”, but I dis­agree with her!).

8. Where the Wild Things Are by Mau­rice Sendak. Clas­sic book about imag­i­na­tion and dream­ing. I didn’t read this book as a child (prob­a­bly because I was almost a teenager), but I highly rec­om­mend it. Beau­ti­ful pic­tures.

9. The Curi­ous Gar­den by Peter Brown. My sweet mother-in-law gave this book to Pey­ton recently, and it’s a won­der­ful book about tak­ing care of the planet and being good stew­ards with our resources. Big change starts small, and this book empha­sizes this through­out. The art­work is amaz­ing.

10. Zin! Zin! Zin! A Vio­lin by Mar­jorie Price­man. When I give some­one a book, this is the book I give them, espe­cially younger chil­dren because it empha­sizes count­ing and music. But older kids like it, too. You must read this at least once. Great story about an opera.

11. If I Ran the Zoo (and many more…) by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss is, by far, the most often read author in our house. Between The Lorax, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Green Eggs and Ham, and The Cat in the Hat, we feel like Dr. Seuss is a mem­ber of our fam­ily. What an amaz­ing tal­ent he was. His legacy lives on in kids and adults all over the world.

12. Aliens Love Under­pants by Claire Freed­man. I tend to be a lit­tle bit of a prude (I was raised that way), but hav­ing sons has changed me. Boys like to talk about pee and poop and under­wear and penises and all other sorts of things that used to make me very uncom­fort­able (the fact that I even wrote the word penis shows how far I’ve come!). This book is won­der­fully hilar­i­ous and great fun for boys (at least for my son) who like to talk about these things at the din­ner table.

Well, there’s twelve of my faves. But I do have one more, so here it is, just because…

13. Alexan­der and the Ter­ri­ble, Hor­ri­ble, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. This book is a clas­sic. I always liked it, but as an adult and a par­ent, I like it even more. I under­stand the story dif­fer­ently, and I think it teaches a lot of good lessons for children.

What children’s books would you add to this list? What were your favorites as a kid? What are your favorites as an adult? A par­ent? Will your kids be par­tic­i­pat­ing in a sum­mer read­ing pro­gram? I look for­ward to see­ing what you come up with.


What I Really Do in the Summer

Col­lege stu­dents and pro­fes­sors all over the coun­try are begin­ning their sum­mer breaks. Courses are com­plete. Finals are taken. Seniors have grad­u­ated and moved away (hope­fully find­ing jobs). Cur­rent stu­dents are enjoy­ing the break from the daily grind of read­ing, writ­ing, and study­ing for courses, while pro­fes­sors are appre­ci­at­ing not hav­ing to go into the office every day, tak­ing a break from plan­ning for classes and grad­ing, and hav­ing more time allot­ted to non-teaching aspects of our jobs.

Grad­u­a­tion was a lit­tle over a week ago and since then, I have heard the fol­low­ing com­ments from friends, fam­ily, and acquaintances:

“You’re so lucky to have the entire sum­mer off!“
“Aren’t you glad to be out for three whole months?“
“I wish I had as much time off as you.“

“Are you enjoy­ing your break from work?“
“It must be nice to only work 32 weeks out of a year.”

These comments—while well-intentioned and most likely just meant to start a con­ver­sa­tion about my sum­mer plans—point to some faulty assump­tions about aca­d­e­mic life, espe­cially life on the tenure-track.

Such a per­spec­tive isn’t sur­pris­ing. Most of these well-meaning peo­ple have jobs with clear-cut work hours (8–5, Monday-Friday), vaca­tion time (2 weeks), and sick time (a cer­tain num­ber of hours).* Oth­ers are K-12 teach­ers who actu­ally do have a true break dur­ing the sum­mer, so, they assume, I must have a break, too. My mom, for instance, was a 3rd and 1st grade teacher most of my life (she retired last year), and except for a week or two of pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment in which she was required to par­tic­i­pate, she was “off”. She was not required or expected to do any work dur­ing her sum­mer vaca­tion. Of course, it wasn’t a true “vaca­tion” for her; she was home with four kids dur­ing the sum­mer. But she didn’t have to “work”.

*This doesn’t always apply to many peo­ple I know who own their own busi­ness and do not get any time off (per­haps they don’t have any employ­ees or only have one or two peo­ple or just can’t afford to take off). If they take time off, they don’t make any money or their busi­ness might suf­fer from being closed for so long.

When pro­fes­sors are “off” (i.e., not teach­ing), how­ever, they are *not* on vaca­tion. Instead, we are busy doing the stuff we are unable to do dur­ing the aca­d­e­mic school year. For today’s post, I’m going to debunk this assump­tion that pro­fes­sors are “off” all sum­mer by explain­ing what I will be doing over the sum­mer in terms of my work. My sum­mer plans are specif­i­cally sit­u­ated in my own con­text as a a tenure-track aca­d­e­mic prepar­ing to go up for tenure in the fall. Sum­mer plans and activ­i­ties may not be the same for other aca­d­e­mics, pro­fes­sors, or instruc­tors, espe­cially ones whose pri­mary respon­si­bil­ity is teach­ing (although they prob­a­bly feel pres­sure to write and pub­lish as well dur­ing the break).

1. Read. A lot. I have devel­oped a list of about 30 (aca­d­e­mic) books I would like to read over the sum­mer, which equals out to about 2–3 books a week. I’ve already read three books since school ended, but I have a large stack wait­ing for me. Some of the books are for my research; oth­ers are for my teach­ing. Either way, I have a lot to read. It’s impor­tant to note that this read­ing does not include all the fic­tion and non-fiction I want to read.

2. Write. A lot. If I were rank­ing this list, writ­ing would be at num­ber 1. It is expected that aca­d­e­mics write over the sum­mer, even when we are not paid for our sum­mer work through a sab­bat­i­cal or grant. I hope to send out at least one arti­cle over the sum­mer.

3. Revise an arti­cle that has been rejected. Last week, I received (bad) news that an arti­cle I wrote was rejected to the jour­nal to which I sub­mit­ted it. Rejec­tion is no fun. It can be extremely dis­cour­ag­ing and dis­heart­en­ing to receive such news. You can only send an arti­cle to one jour­nal at a time and they hold on to it between 4–6 months (at best) before noti­fy­ing you of the deci­sion. When you receive neg­a­tive news, it can depress me for days. But it’s the real­ity of aca­d­e­mic life. There’s even a jour­nal called The Jour­nal of Uni­ver­sal Rejec­tion that rejects every sin­gle arti­cle they receive. I don’t plan on sub­mit­ting there, but I find the premise delight­fully ironic.

4. Plan the courses I will be teach­ing in the Fall (and even the Spring). This activ­ity involves sev­eral components:

a. Com­pose a syl­labus. Decide on course objec­tives, assign­ments, grad­ing cri­te­ria, rules and guide­lines for the course. This needs to be done at least one week in advance of the semes­ter and takes a lot of planning.

b. Draft a course sched­ule. Cre­at­ing a course sched­ule for the entire semes­ter before you ever teach a course is prob­a­bly the hard­est part of plan­ning for a course. I begin work on this early and make changes all the way up to the start of class.

5. Plan for next year’s research project. I received a Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity Research Com­mit­tee (URC) grant for a project I’m work­ing on that exam­ines how stu­dents write about the writ­ing they will com­plete in their jobs. I will have a Research Assis­tant and I need to make plans for the aca­d­e­mic year.

6. Com­pose a Research Leave appli­ca­tion. I plan on apply­ing for a Research Leave for Fall 2013 or Spring 2014. This appli­ca­tion is detailed and time-consuming, and I plan to do much of it over the summer.

7. Com­pose an appli­ca­tion for a Sum­mer Sab­bat­i­cal. I would like to have sum­mer fund­ing next sum­mer, so I will also apply for a Sum­mer Sab­bat­i­cal through my university.

8. Update my tech­no­log­i­cal skills. I teach writ­ing and design courses, and my stu­dents and I use tech­nol­ogy every day. I am quite adept at Word, Excel, Pub­lisher, and Word­Press, but I need to enhance my skills in the Adobe suite, par­tic­u­larly InDe­sign and Pho­to­shop. I plan on learn­ing these bet­ter over the sum­mer.

9. Get orga­nized. Shred paper­work. Clean out my office. Orga­nize and delete com­puter files. Go through my email Inbox and delete, delete, delete.

10. Attend pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment sem­i­nars or work­shops. In June, I will be attend­ing a one-week sem­i­nar in Rhetoric and Com­po­si­tion at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity.

11. Begin think­ing about and plan­ning for the grad­u­ate course I will teach next Spring. Book orders will be due in Octo­ber, and I need to know early what I will be doing in the course, ten­ta­tively titled “Teach­ing Dig­i­tal Rhetoric.” I will do a lot of research for the course in terms of texts, assign­ments, and require­ments. And, since there isn’t much time in Decem­ber to plan for Spring course, I need to do most plan­ning over the sum­mer and dur­ing the Fall semester.

12. Put together my tenure note­book. More on this in the future.

As you can see, my sum­mer is filled with things I must get done before school resumes in August. Yes, I appre­ci­ate that I have a break from teach­ing and com­mut­ing to the office every day, but it’s not a true break that the word “vaca­tion” entails. I will take a vacation–two actu­ally. One with my hus­band for my 10th anniver­sary and another with my fam­ily to the beach. But, the pres­sure to read, write, pub­lish, and get caught up is ever present in my sum­mer life, even when I’m play­ing with my chil­dren, watch­ing a movie, or hik­ing in the park. That’s just the way it is.