Monday, October 22, 2012

Testing Conundrum

I was recently asked about a common testing conundrum. It's also a reading conundrum. What does a kid read when his ability level is high, but his grade level is much lower? Say he's a sixth grade boy with the ability to read Catcher in the Rye, but really, does he want to? Do we want him to?  Let's make it even worse. There has to be a test!! What's a guy to read? Fortunately, with a little guidance, it's not quite as bad as it used to be. Publishers have seen the need and authors are prolifically churning out series titles to curb your every testing need.

As a librarian, I would encourage you to ask questions before you answer that question. What genre does he like to read? Favorite author? Favorite book? You can waste a lot of time making suggestions by going down the wrong path. Take a moment to do a little inventory questioning before you rattle off the best authors/series.

Suppose he likes adventure/mystery. He could try:

Patrick Carmen
John Feinstein
Magaret Haddix
Will Hobbs
Dorothy Hoobler
Anthony Horowitz
Kenneth Oppel
James Patterson
Rick Yancey

Maybe he likes fantasy:
DJ MacHale
Terry Pratchett
Rick Riordan
Jonathan Stroud
Neal Shusterman

How about nonfiction?
Marc Aronson
Candace Fleming
Russell Freedman
Kathleen Krull

You'll note that none of these belong to the "Dead White Writers' Club." In fact, there are even a few women on the list.

In addition, there are online sites to help you in the selection process. Unfortunately, your school may not have the test. (which is another problem all together) You can go to AR BookFinder and use the advanced feature to select an appropriate book. Enter your interest level, ATOS level, choose a genre, a language, and narrow it down with additional factors to browse through potential titles. Parents, teachers, and librarians will appreciate the "warnings" of sex or language that appear in the short descriptions.

Check with your school or public library and look for a product called What Do I Read Next? (a Gale product) And certainly check out Jon Scieszka's Guys Read site. If your guy isn't sure what he wants to read or which authors he might like, check out the new series, Guys Read. Each of the projected 10 volume series will cover a different genre. It's a great way for guys to test the water to see which author's they like. Each book is full of the best in people (not just guys) who write for guys in a short story format.

How about you? What do you do when you get into the Testing Conundrum?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Multi-Posting @ JLG Shelf Life

So where do I write when I'm not posting here? I'm posting on JLG- Shelf Life. As part of my new JLG job, we decided that to be the true librarian's partner, I would offer my insight and expertise on all functions of the library world, not just about the books. Part of the plan is that I will write 2 to 3 times a week. My co-conspirators will write as the muse hits them and the keeper of time allows it.

So, who writes with me? Susan Marston is the JLG Editorial Director in New York. Susan has been selecting books for Junior Library Guild for a few years shy of half her life and even after all this time, finds that the work never grows old. (Talk about a job with pressure!) Susan will write about the choices the editorial team is making and about children's book publishing in general. (Except for the big dark secrets that she is under blood oath not to tell)

Leslie Bermel, whom many of you know, is our resident book talker. Leslie came to Junior Library Guild 11 years ago and travels throughout the country talking with thousands of librarians each year. Last year she gave 100 presentations across the country. Since I've been here in the last 4 weeks, I've seen her twice (her desk is upstairs). Leslie will be our spy and give us Reflections From the Road.

And me, I'll be writing about all things library. I'll try to try to be the scout for what's happening in our world. So from time to time, I'll write here, but if you want to keep up on a more frequent basis, check out the Shelf Life blog. No, you don't have to be a member, but don't you want to be?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Three Times Lucky

 Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. How could you not pick up a book with a cover like this? Then you read the first sentence- " Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt. Almost before the dust had settled, Mr. Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down."

I'm sold from the first sentence and the book just gets better. Full of quick wit and humor, mystery and mayhem, this novel for upper elementary will have readers turning those pages.  Plenty of trouble waits for Mo (ses) and Dale (Earnhardt Johnson III) with lots of red herrings to steer them astray. Mo is an orphan who washed up in a storm eleven years ago and was found by The Colonel, who had lost his memory. When Mr. Jesse is found dead, Mo and Dale decide to solve the murder themselves. So when Dale is also a suspect and the Colonel goes missing, things just get complicated.

Know that in addition to murder, the story also touches briefly on alcoholism and domestic violence. Without giving away the resolution, know that you'll be pleasantly surprised in the end. Mo will steal your heart and give you a laugh along the way.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bird Talk: What Birds are Saying and Why

Have you ever heard birds outside your window and wondered what they're saying? Maybe you've been at the zoo and seen some dancing and prancing and wondered what that's all about. Then Bird Talk is the book for you. Lita Judge, granddaughter of ornithologists, has written about her love of birds and what they do to communicate.

This fascinating look into bird behavior will have you spouting off facts to anyone who will listen. I, myself, jumped right to the online databases to do a little research of my own. Indian Sarus Cranes mate for life. They do a wonderful ballet on the surface of the water, bowing and leaping. Western Grebes also dance on the water's surface with their mates. The Blue Bird of Paradise hangs upside down to attract his mate.

Birds also communicate to protect their young. The North American Killdeer screams and flaps a "broken" wing to lure a fox from her eggs. They communicate to stay safe. The American Bittern silences its loud, booming voice when danger is near and sits "still as a stone."

Some birds listen and learn. Northern mockingbirds can mimic other birds or even cell phone rings. Alex the parrot learned 150 words, could name objects and count to six.

Lita finishes her informational picture book by giving more facts about the birds in this book. Go ahead and do what I did. Look it up. It's true. And while you're there, look for videos. You can see see Grebes dance and Sarus Cranes ballet. Better grab a tissue- it's amazing. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bon Appétit!

Happy 100th birthday, Julia Child. Changing the way we cook, the way we eat and the way we think about food, Julia Child made a difference in our lives. Despite not cooking until she was 32 years old, Julia found her passion when she was in her beloved France. She learned to cook and began to write with her new friends. She overcame obstacles- her age, her size, her gender, rejection letters and the little red pen of her editor. Julia taught us to think about what we eat. To shop for the best at our local markets. To use what was in season. To enjoy eating. Oh! And use real butter- lots of it!

So for today, in honor of Julia, skip the fast food. Shop for local fresh food. Make dinner an event. Go out to eat at a French restaurant. Be brave and make her famous bouef bourguignon. (You won’t find a better recipe and the video from ABC is wonderful.) Watch a video episode of her live television show. Go to the Smithsonian and see her marvelous kitchen. Wear pearls. And laugh. Laugh at your troubles. Laugh at yourself.

If there is a child in your life, share a wonderful picture book. Bon Appétit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland tells the life story of Julia. From her childhood as a prankster to her spy missions in WWII to the famous American chef, Hartland shares the real Julia with us. Complete with recipes and sprinkled with French words and phrases, the life of Julia and the obstacles she overcame will encourage every child. Read about Hartland's inspiration behind the story. (Doesn't everyone want to know where stories come from?) No matter how tall you are, what your family wants you to be or what your interests are, Julia teaches even the children to admit your mistakes, learn from them, laugh at them and enjoy being who you are. Bon appétit!

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Rock is Lively

Using beautiful watercolor illustrations (they aren’t photographs?!), Sylvia Long illustrates Dianna Hutts Aston’s text in the award-winning creative style of An Egg is Quiet, A Seed is Sleepy and A Butterfly is Patient. Young readers will delight in the facts that are revealed as we learn about how rocks are created and how we use them. A Rock is Lively is just the thing to add a much needed boost to your "rock books." Are there ever enough?

For middle school students, you may want to check out Rocks and the People Who Love Them by Nel Yomtov. Published by Capstone’s Graphic Library, this nonfiction book uses graphic novel format to both inform and entertain. In addition to supporting earth science curriculum, teachers can use the back matter as they teach students how to research- and connecting to the common core curriculum.
Enslow’s Weird But True Science series includes a rock title for our primary nonfiction readers. In Weird But True Rocks by Carmen Bredeson, we learn that pumice floats and flint sparks. Complete with “Words to Know”, pronunciation guides and a two page spread on each rock, this title will educate your readers on their reading level.

If you're looking for support material, there are free lesson plans at Discovery Education for middle grades. The Geological Society of America is also a resource of lesson plans and other resources for grades, K-12. And don't forget about the US Geological Survey site. From maps to multimedia, there are plenty of resources for your teaching of earth science.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sigh of Relief for Picture Books

It’s the last day of my first week as the new Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. I’ve spent the week moving into my office space, meeting with key staff to learn more about the company and processed what I’ve heard so that I can apply it to my new job. It would appear it will take more time to learn what I need to know and to determine what my job is really all about.

Thankfully, today the new books came from the warehouse to the marketing area for us to see. I know what to do with new books. READ!! I took the picture book on top (and a few more if you want to know the truth) and settled into my office.
Spike the Mixed-up Monster by Susan Hood and Melissa Sweet is a charming bilingual story about a monster who is really not so scary. In fact, his growl is more like a smile. When a real scary Gila monster arrives at the pond, Spike saves the day. How? You’ll have to read that story for yourself. (January 2013, JLG release date)
Besides that fact that the story is charming and the illustrations are brilliant, there are also three pages of facts about the animals in the back matter. Complete with photographs, we learn about the main characters in the story. For example, Spike is an axolotl, a Mexican salamander. These amazing animals can only be found naturally in two places in the world- Lake Chalco and Lake Xochimilco. Gila monsters hunt with their tongues. Mexican voles have teeth that never stop growing so they have to gnaw to keep their teeth from getting too long. They also eat their body weight in food every 24 hours.

See how much you can learn from a picture book? Where’s my next one? Oh yes, A Rock is Lively… Stay tuned. I’ll be right back.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SummerTeen: A Celebration of Young Adult Literature

It’s not too late to register for a once in a lifetime opportunity. SLJ is hosting SummerTeen: A Celebration of Young Adult Books on Thursday, August 9. Twenty one young adult authors will discuss their upcoming books- just in time for your fall book orders. Featuring keynote speaker, Caroline Cooney, this day long celebration of literacy has a huge bonus. It’s online! You can participate from home in your pajamas or at the beach in your bathing suit. (Well, maybe not the beach if you live in Columbus, Ohio.)

Beginning at 10:30 EST and ending at 5:30 EST, watch book trailers, listen to panels, visit the virtual exhibit floor and even chat with authors in the virtual lounge. This event is a must for those of us who work with young adults- school library, public library and even parents of YAs. For that matter you may want to invite your teens together for a day long lounge-about and let them participate too.

Even better, now that I am officially in my new job as Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild, I can offer you a great registration discount. Simply clickon this link and enter this code, SMRTNJLG, on checkout to claim your 50% off discount. See you online!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


It's that time of year! Opening week for the annual summer musical at Vanguard Theatre in Point Loma. The first collaboration by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma! opened on Broadway in 1943. In 1955, Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae immortalized it on film.

You'll recognize some of your favorite Vanguard actors, see some of your favorites return and welcome the talent of our newcomers. I'll be appearing as Aunt Eller. The sets, lighting, costumes and music are amazing. What a group of talented people I am fortunate to work with!

I hope you'll be able to attend one of the performances. The production opens Friday, July 13 and runs until July 29. For more information or to order tickets online, visit the Vanguard website. Get your tickets in advance as many performances are already sold out!

For a sneak preview, attend the Music at Dusk concert on Monday night, July 16 at 6:30 in the amphitheater behind the church. We'll be singing Oklahoma! at intermission. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the free concert  in beautiful Point Loma.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Junior Library Guild Hires Ford as Director of Library Outreach

Junior Library Guild Hires Ford as Director of Library Outreach

“Having Deborah On Our Staff Will Help Keep Us Connected
with the Issues and Challenges Librarians Face.

Deborah B. Ford has been hired as JLG’s Director of Library Outreach, responsible for delivering valuable and useful information to the school and public library community. In this new position, Deborah will serve as the “face” of JLG’s expertise and knowledge regarding libraries and media centers, school librarianship, and professional development.

Deborah, an award-winning library media specialist, brings more than 25 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools to JLG. She previously worked as the District Resource Librarian for San Diego Unified School District, responsible for 180 K–12 schools. She gives seminars for the Bureau of Education and has written her own book, Scary, Gross and Enlightening: Books for Boys.

As director, she will support product development, guide development of training materials, actively blog, write various columns, and help to further the development of JLG Booktalks through webinar-delivery

“Deborah brings us the perfect blend of experience and expertise. She will work directly with libraries across the country to help strengthen our relationships, gain more feedback and knowledge, and build more valuable products and services for our clients,” said Andrew Thorne, Vice President of marketing for Media Source, Inc., the parent company of JLG, as well as School Library Journal, Library Journal, and Horn Book.

Deborah holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Charleston Southern University and a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of South Carolina.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Build the Bridge

Tomorrow morning I am speaking at a local conference, The 21st Association of African American Educators. My topic- Using Digital Resources to Build Bridges. As educators we want to ensure our students have equal access to current, accurate materials- even beyond the bricks and mortar of the library.

What are these resources? Digital databases. Doing a “Google” search on ancient China, yields almost 11 million hits. Digital databases provide manageable results to a search. Remember when Pluto was demoted? The very next day, online encyclopedias had edited the entry and added one on dwarf planets. Databases provide reliable, updated information. Whether you’re at school, home or grandma’s in Texas, you have 24/7 access to information on varied reading levels with different modalities of learning.

In our workshop we will look at SDUSD’s one stop shopping site, Destiny, for digital resources. We will also look at the digital portal at the SD County Office of Education. And let’s not forget the public libraries. In San Diego, we have the Public Library and the County Library. Both of those organizations have digital databases and even ebooks for their patrons. If we are trying to build a bridge and bring resources to all students, we need to teach them to fish. Let’s be sure we remind them that after school, they can still use public libraries.

As teachers or librarians, there are several strategies we can use for integrating these digital resources. The first is to collaborate. If you are a teacher, contact your library staff about what resources are available in your library. Are they available outside the district? Do I need a password? Can they teach your staff or classes about how to use them? Work together with a specific curriculum standard and use the resources for a reason.

If you are library staff, make sure your administration, teachers, students and parents know about your digital resources. If you have district staff, perhaps they can make a presentation to the groups. One of the biggest parts of my current job is to do Destiny digital database presentations. I can do it in a 15 minute teaser or a two hour workshop. I even have an elevator talk.

What are other strategies educators can use to build the bridge with digital databases? Stay tuned. Tomorrow we’ll go a little further.

Oh! The Places We'll Go

Celebrate the joys of reading!
Happy Read Across America Day! Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! Every year across America readers flock to our classrooms to celebrate reading and the birth of beloved author/illustrator, Theodore Geisel. From The Cat in the Hat to Green Eggs and Ham, kids of all ages will look back on the classics of childhood. Readers from all walks of life will take time from their busy schedule to talk about reading and share a book with a classroom of students.
Today I am reading at two schools. This morning I'll go to Penn Elementary. Pam Kester has been hosting this event for years and is a champion at choreographing the events of the day. I'm taking several books to read to my class, including I Want My Hat Back and Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson.

Tonight Aunt Betty is going to Longfellow Spanish Immersion Magnet School to do some Mo Willems' stories. Her friend will be reading Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus in spanish while she translates. I'm afraid it could be hysterical. Then they will do a choral reading of We Are In a Book. It promises to be a great deal of fun and we are thrilled to go there. The library tech asked us in July!

Here's my Seuss boots!
So today, whether you read to a classroom or not, take time today to read.Check out the Seussville website for books and activities. Take time to think about how important reading is in your life now. Maybe you can think back to the people who helped you to learn to read or to love to read. Send a note of thanks. Next year volunteer to read in a classroom. (It's usually March 2.) And remember- reading is reading.

Monday, February 27, 2012

You Make a Commercial

What do you say when someone says why do I need to go to a database training? Last week, I was asked that question by more than one person. With a need, comes a solution. I needed an infommercial about our district one-stop-shopping source for all your digitial information needs- Destiny. So, at midnight on Friday, I grabbed my cell phone from the nightstand and recorded my thoughts. This morning, I made a little video. Too large to email, I created this post. Here is the text of the video. Perhaps you can use the bones of it to create your own infommercial.

Suppose you are a 6th grade student doing research on ancient China. You do a Google search and get 11 million hits. How are you supposed to know which site has the best answers?

Maybe you’re a classroom teacher. You have to teach a unit of inquiry and you just don’t have enough resources for content. You need differentiated texts.

Maybe you're a parent. You can’t afford to buy an encyclopedia every year and you don’t have the gas to drive to the public library after school closes.

Maybe you’re an administrator and you just want to level the playing field to ensure that everyone has equal access to the most current information.

We’re all busy. Isn’t there one place to go with all that information?

There is. I’m Deborah Ford, your resource librarian. The answer is one simple word. That word is Destiny. It’s available 24-7 and it goes beyond the bricks and mortar of your library.

Our district library catalog, Destiny, is more than a list of books. It’s one stop shopping for all your digital needs- from up to date encyclopedias to PDFs of magazine articles in databases, from vetted websites to readers’ theater scripts, you’ll find everything you need all at one website.

Want to know more about Destiny and the digital databases? Contact me, Deborah Ford, at Library Services to Schools. From a 15 minute overview that leaves you wanting more to a hands-on two hour workshop, you can find out how your library extends beyond the bricks and mortar with Destiny.

Oh! And you can find out what books you have in the collection too.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Words are Only Half the Story

Register for this FREE webinar,
hosted by yours truly.
 It appears that my fifteen minutes of Comic Con fame have been extended. Imagine my delight when I checked my voicemail only to discover a message from John Mason of Scholastic Trade, Inc. inquiring about my interest and availability to participate in a webinar about graphic novels. Could I write some lesson plans? Would I be willing to Skype in as the educator specialist for this panel of graphic novelists? (Can we say Dance of Joy?)

In spite of my recent after-cruise sickness, I jumped in and created the lesson plans to support the webinar. During a conference call with the director, producer, and marketing folks, we discussed the direction of the webinar itself. The following weekend, I was at ALA in Dallas and ran into the Scholastic Trade group at an author function- which was one of the highlights of my trip by the way. It seems they had made a production decision and wondered if I would be interested in flying to New York and hosting the webinar live!! (Can we say Dance of Joy with High Fives All Around?) I'm not sure I'm still not on the moon.

Here's the information so you can participate.

Join author/illustrators Jeff Smith, Kazu Kibuishi, and Raina Telgemeier as they share how words and pictures can work together to tell stories in unique ways!

Graphix: Words are Only Half the Story!
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. PT

This free webinar should be a great deal of fun for you and your students.
· Learn how to draw Bone. (Bone Series)
· Find out how real life becomes a comic novel. (Smile)
· Watch Kazu color in a graphic novel panel. (Amulet series)

By registering in advance, you’ll ensure a reminder to participate that day and a sorry we missed you if you miss it. Go to Scholastic Graphix to register for the event:

The webinar teaching material is now posted. The script is being written. Conference calls continue to occur. It's becoming a wonderful experience in behind the scenes of production. Now to pack for New York!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tadpole's Promise Strikes Again

No, I'm afraid there is not a sequel to Tadpole's Promise by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, but I can never resist telling their tale. There are few picture books that are easier to prove the point that even older students can enjoy a picture book. In December Aunt Betty went to two fifth grade classes with a large suitcase full of new books. (Yes, she could come to your class. I could, too, for that matter.) She began each class with a telling of Tadpole's Promise and the lesson learned is that you shouldn't skip the short books- they aren't always just for the little ones. As you may recall, this book falls into the "don't shoot from the hip because it might backfire group."

While there, Aunt Betty booktalked some of the newest trends in literature for middle grades- series, comics, nonfiction. The hour went by quickly. Interspersed were some great books that fifth graders might miss because they are in the "easy section." Aunt Betty told them that they could always use them to read to their younger siblings. They are really short stories that might give them an idea about their own writing. Pictures are amazing...

I just got a book of thank you letters from the classes. Two letters especially made me laugh out loud.

Dear Aunt Betty,
I really appreciate you coming to our class and telling about all new books. I thought that the story The Tadpole's Promise was pretty funny. I can relate to that story because my mom wants me to stay her little baby but I can't and I told her to expect change. So thanks for coming to our class.

Dear Aunt Betty,
Thank you for visiting my school and sharing books with us. I really liked the books you showed us. The stories that you told us were awesome because I told the tadpole and caterpillar story to my mom and my dad and they loved it. And I told the story to my baby brother for bedtime story and he went right to sleep.


Well. There you go...