Look what's just a month away from being released--my first middle grade novel GASPARILLA'S GOLD. Click on this photo to find out about my school visits on SANDRA MARKLE SPEAKS!

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Wow! Who knew we could have an excuse to have fun exploring dinosaurs. But October is it! I LOVE that October is INTERNATIONAL DINOSAUR MONTH!

Dig In
Here are some sites where you can find lots of fun things to do and ways for children to investigate.

Science Made Fun
This site is packed with info about dinosaur record holders. For example do you know which dinosaur is the smallest when fully-grown? Or which kind was the first ever to be discovered in North America? You will once you visit this site.

Can you make up a story about what's going on in this picture?

Child Care Lounge: Dinosaur Activities
Songs and crafts add fun and games to learning about dinosaurs.

Enchanted Learning: Dinosaur Quizes

Ten questions, word unscrambles, crosswords and name hunts. There's lots of dino-fun here. 

And don't miss the jokes! You'll find the answers to these and more.

Why did the Archaeopteryx catch the worm?

What do you get when dinosaurs crash their cars?

Breaking News: Dinosaur Egg Discovered

Check out this latest discovery of dinosaur eggs. Also, take a look inside my book to see how the latest technology let scientists study baby dinosaurs. And learn what they were like and how they developed.
See a real baby dinosaur on page 35

 Encourage children to imagine dinosaur eggs were discovered at their school or at home in their backyard. Have them become reporters to bring this breaking news to the world.

South Pole Dinosaurs
Dr. Christian Sidor with fossil

Hard as it is to believe, during the Age of Dinosaurs the world's climate was very different. In fact, it was a time of Greenhouse kind of warming. So there were forests in Antarctica where the land is now covered with thick ice sheets. Scientist Dr. Vanessa Bowman reported that the rainforests of New Zealand with their fern trees show what the Antarctic forests were once like. In fact, Robert Falcon Scott found fossilized plants there in 1912. Since, explorers have discovered fossilized, bush-sized beech trees and remains of ginkgos, another ancient kind of tree. And dinosaur bones have also been discovered.
What's fascinating about these dinosaur remains isn't that they lived in Antarctica. It's that they had to deal with the polar night. Though the climate was clearly warmer in that ancient time, there still would have been the long period of dark. Professor Thomas Rich has found several of the now eight known species (kinds) of Antarctic dinosaurs. And the only complete skeleton found was for LeaellynasauraThis provided a big clue as to how the dinosaurs managed. Its skull had extra big eye sockets so it probably had big eyes--what it would have needed to see in the long night. 

[Don't miss the sweet story of how this dinosaur got its name.]

So what kinds of dinosaurs once lived near the South Pole? Here's the names of three. Click on the name of each to link to a site where you can begin learning more about that dinosaur. If you're interested go online to discover more about one or more of these dinosaurs. And create a 12-page mini-picture book about the dinosaur.

 Antarctopelta, meaning “Antarctic shield.” Discovered in 1986. Believed to be an ankylosaurus type of armored plant eater.


Cryolophosaurus, means “coldcrested lizard.” Approximately 20–26 feet (6–8 m) long, this massive creature must have required a hefty diet, including other dinosaurs.

Glacialisaurus, meaning “frozen lizard.” The entire dinosaur must have been 20–25 feet (6–8 m) long and weighed an estimated 4–6 tons.

Now, imagine that you have travelled to Antarctica. And you're part of a team that has found the fossil remains of a brand new kind of dinosaur. Read this story about someone who lived that exciting adventure. Then make up a story about being along on this expedition.

Have Dino Dreams

Dinosaurs are also perfect for launching all sorts of creative thinking. Let children look at this picture and:
1. Imagine living in that city.
2. Draw another kind of dinosaur that's hosting a city.
3. Dream up a class pet dinosaur. 

And enjoy some of these fun reads:
How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?

Dinosaur Dig

Sunday, September 4, 2016


This is National Wildlife Month. I share my appreciation of wildlife in many of my books. But one book shares one of my own special wildlife memories. Children can join me in sharing that experience in Butterfly Tree (Peachtree Publishers). 

First, the heart of this book is about making a memory—taking time to do something together you can remember sharing forever. Talk about and then write about a special time you remember sharing with someone. 

*Where and when did it happen?

*What happened?

*What was the key moment of that shared time?

Of course, there are also places we’d like to go and things we’d like to do to make memories. Talk about and then write about something you’d like to share doing together.

Now, explore the special memory Jilly and her mother share in Butterfly Tree.

When Jilly first spots something strange in the sky out over Lake Erie, what does she think it looks like?  Read and discover.

Describing what something looks like by comparing it to something else is called a metaphor. Basically, something unfamiliar is described by telling how it’s like something familiar. A metaphor can be a powerful way to use words to paint a picture in someone’s mind. Try it.

Sit quietly for a few minutes either indoors or outside. Look around. Pick out something to focus on. Then think how you could describe what it looks like to someone who’s never seen it by comparing it to something else--something familiar. 

Next, share your metaphor. Ask the person to describe the visual image your words painted in their mind. Trade metaphors back and forth to work together building a description.

Here are some places and times you could use metaphors to partner building a description others can enjoy too.
*A sunset

*A stormy day

*An animal in action: a bird taking flight; a squirrel in a tree; a cat playing

When Jilly first sees the orange cloud in the sky, she makes lots of guesses of what it might be. Each of those guesses probably instantly made Jilly think of a different possibility for where the cloud came from and why it’s over Lake Erie. What did Jilly imagine the cloud might be? Read and discover.

Spend some time cloud watching with someone. Look out a window or go outside on a wonderfully cloudy day. Focus on one cloud that looks like an animal, an object, or something totally magical. Tell a short story about that cloud and what you imagined about it. 

Then write your cloud story. Be sure to include at least one metaphor to help your reader see what you’re describing.

Jilly’s ready to run away because of the orange cloud she’s spotted, but her Mom suggests they go searching for where the cloud landed. 

What orange things do Jilly and her Mom discover in the woods before they find the orange cloud? Read and discover.

What happens to reveal what the orange cloud really is? Don't miss reading to find out!

Mom says she remembers seeing the butterflies when she was a girl. Why do you think she didn’t just tell Jilly what the orange cloud was?

Now, discover more about monarch butterflies. 

The Circle of Life

Look at these images of the stages of a monarch butterfly’s life cycle. 

The female lays her eggs on the leaves of milkweed plants. Caterpillars hatch out in about four days.

Caterpillars eat their egg case and keep on eating. They eat the milkweed leaves they’re on. They eat nearly twenty-four hours a day for about two weeks.

The caterpillar spins a silk pad on the under side of a leaf. It grips this with tiny legs, called prolegs. It hangs in a J-shape and molts. This way it sheds its exoskeleton, or outer covering. 

That hardens to form a chrysalis, a protective case. Inside the chrysalis, digestive juices break down a lot of the caterpillar’s old body. Using energy from stored up fats, a new body grows from the old one bit by bit.

After about two weeks, an adult monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. It takes several hours for its wings to fully inflate and harden. Then it flies off to feed on nectar, the sweet liquid produced by flowers. It lives from two to eight weeks. During this time, the males and females mate. Then the females lay their eggs, starting the cycle over again. 

Butterfly Inside
Experience what happens when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Cut out and color an adult monarch

Then fold this up small and push it inside a balloon. 
Have an adult partner blow up a balloon just enough to partly inflate it. Tie the neck to seal the balloon.

Cover the balloon with paper mache. To do this, first snip newspaper into strips about an inch (2.5 cm) wide and 6 inches (25 cm) long. Cut at least 25 strips. In a bowl, mix one-half cup flour with enough water to make a runny paste. Dip one paper strp into the glue mixture. Hold the strip over the bowl and slide between your thumb and fingers to remove excess paste. Smooth the strip onto the balloon. Repeat until the whole balloon is covered up to the neck. Smooth your fingers over the wet balloon. This will help seal the edges of the paper strips. Set the balloon in a clean, dry bowl. Turn frequently for a few hours to help it dry evenly. Leave overnight.

The balloon now represents the chrysalis inside which the caterpillar is changing into an adult butterfly. Use scissors to carefully snip into the balloon just below the neck. That will pop the balloon. It will deflate and separate from the inside of the paper mache. Carefully pull out the balloon. Open it and pull out the folded up adult. Unfold the adult slowly. 

In real life, the adult butterfly’s body gives off a special chemical that helps break open the chrysalis. Then the adult crawls out and hangs upside down from its chrysalis. Its abdomen squeezes over and over, pumping fluid into the wings. The big wings slowly unfold. The butterfly flaps these wings while they dry and become strong. Then it’s ready to fly. 

Scavenger Hunt

Now, go on an on-line scavenger hunt to track down the answers to these questions.

How can you help monarch butterflies?

Why is a viceroy butterfly colored to mimic a monarch butterfly?

Also, don’t miss the fun, interactive jigsaw puzzles on this site.

Where do monarch butterflies go to escape cold winters?
Watch the slide show at The Magic of Monarch Butterfly Migration

Also find out what is the longest any monarch butterfly has flown to date during its migration?

Wonder how monarch know where they’re going when they migrate?

Journey North’s Monarch Butterfly Migration Tracking Project reports
“This is a question that scientists are still working to answer. People working at the University of Kansas with Chip Taylor have shown that they use the sun, and also probably the earth’s magnetic field to know which way is south during the fall migration. But we don’t know how they find the specific spots in Mexico. Personally, I’m not sure that we’ll ever be able to answer this one—which I think is kind of nice. I like mysteries!”

Now, in honor of National Wildlife Day, jump into the amazing story of what's being done to help a rare big cat, the Amur leopard.

Friday, August 26, 2016


Okay, some places it's time for school to start again. But there is still going to be summer weather for a while even where winters get icy cold.  So here are ten things you should definitely try while you can enjoy getting outside.

1.  Make something out of mud. Even better do it after it's rained. What is that mud like? How is different from dry dirt? Is there one way it's still the same? Take pictures of what you made and send me one to share here. 

2. Play flashlight tag in the dark. 

3. Go on a shadow hunt to find the following shadows. But take an adult along because grown-ups need to have fun too:
a. Find a shadow with a bright hole in it.
b. Find the biggest shadow you can. Figure out what made it.
c. Find the littlest shadow you can. Figure out what made it.  

4. Fly a kite. But make one first. Here are sites with easy how-to instructions.

5. Make a FOOT painting. Sure, you've probably done fingerprinting. But have you ever painted with your feet? It will really let you STEP UP as an artist. Try mixing your own paints first. Here's some how-to sites to help you. Then send a picture of your art work. I'll share it on my blog. :-)!


6. Look at the world through a magnifying glass. Especially something you never thought to look at closely before. See anything that surprised you?  

7. Put on a puppet show with puppets you make yourself. Here's some sites with ideas to help you do just that.

8. Learn one constellation you didn't know in the night sky. Find out what story people used to tell about it. Then make up a new story yourself.

Here's my favorite constellation ORION. And here's a couple of sites with star stories, including ones about Orion.

Hope you have fun with these activities. I'll share more soon. And, of course, I'm always as close as reading one of my books. Like BUTTERFLY TREE. It's about a special kind of surprise that happened to me once right about this time of year. 


Monday, August 8, 2016


It's back to school time. 
Let's make this a colorful year!

How perfect that for the very first time ever August has been declared NATIONAL CRAYON COLLECTION MONTH. 
The idea launched by Sheila Morovati, President and Founder of Crayon Collection is to help insure every child going back to school has a supply of crayons to fuel their creativity. The source of this valuable resource is all of those local restaurants who provide crayons for children to color while waiting for dinner. I think it's brilliant for three reasons:
1. Children get crayons to make their school life colorful.
2. Teachers who spend their own money adding supplies to what's provided in their classrooms save money, which they'll probably spend on other things for their classrooms. Teachers do that I know from personal experience. :-)
3. Ever wonder where all the old restaurant crayons go? To landfills! So this helps the environment.

So if you take this challenge, here are some restaurants to contact to collect crayons. Of course, you'll need to make the commitment to visit monthly for a few months and collect what they save for you.
For some great ideas (divided into grade level groups) for putting those crayons to use check out this site Crayon Collection Curriculum. You can share photos of your crayon collections and crayon art by using #GotCrayons on social media to encourage others to participate and to show how simply you can gain access to thousands of crayons. 
Kid Friendly Restaurants
IHOP                                          Denny’s
Applebees                                  BJ’s
Cracker Barrel                            Olive Garden
California Pizza Kitchen            Outback
Island’s Restaurants                   Buffalo Wild Wings
Bubba Gump
And, of course, being National Crayon Collection Month, August is the perfect time to share several of my favorite children's books that star crayons.

Red: A Crayon's Story (Michael Hall/Greenwillow Books, 2015)

Red has a bright red label, but he is, in fact, blue. His teacher tries to help him be red (let's draw strawberries!), his mother tries to help him be red by sending him out on a playdate with a yellow classmate (go draw a nice orange!), and the scissors try to help him be red by snipping his label so that he has room to breathe. But Red is miserable. He just can't be red, no matter how hard he tries! Finally, a brand-new friend offers a brand-new perspective, and Red discovers what readers have known all along. He's blue! This funny, heartwarming, colorful picture book about finding the courage to be true to your inner self can be read on multiple levels, and it offers something for everyone.

The Day The Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt/Philomela Books, 2013)

Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun.

What can Duncan possibly do to appease all of the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best?

Plus there's lots more ways kids can be creative with crayons. Check out these websites.

Whatever you do with all of those recycled crayons is bound to make this new school year super colorful!

Sunday, July 10, 2016


Summer is bat season. While you're trying to avoid those buzzing insects, some kinds of bats are busy catching and eating insects. HOORAY FOR BATS!

And while you're appreciating bats find out why some bats are in trouble--plus how scientists are working to help bats survive.

Mother and Pup Reunion

Mother Mexican free-tail bats leave their babies behind in a nursery cave. When they return, they always find their baby. How do they do it?  Play this game to find out.

Cut a sheet of paper into twenty pieces.  On each of ten slips, write the name of a sound, such as tweet or click. Copy the name of each sound onto a second slip of paper.  Next, have a group of twenty people gather together.  Pass out one set of sound slips. Those players are now the “Mother bats”.  Have them leave the room. Or they can go to one wall and turn their backs on the others.  Next, pass out the other set of sound slips.  These players are now the “Bat Pups”.   Have these bats stand close together.

Tell the Mother Bats that their job will be to find their baby, the Bat Pup making their same sound. On your signal have the pups start making their sounds.  Also have the Mother Bats move toward the pups while making their own sounds. Give the Mother bats just ten seconds to find their Bat Pups. Any Pup without a Mother dies.  How many of the Pups were lost?

Just Like Bats

You could say bats did it first. They make noises and listen to the echoes to find their way through the dark.  Now, human inventors are copying them to help people who are blind.

What they invented is called the “UltraCane”.

To build it, scientists first studied the way bats make ultrasonic (super high-pitched) sounds and listen for echoes.  Hearing these echoes alerts bats to things they might run into. It even lets them “see” when its pitch dark.  Then scientists made a cane that puts out ultrasonic sounds and picks up the echoes.   It has a short range mode that picks up things that are about 6 feet (about 2 meters) away.  It also has a long range mode. That picks up any object about 13 feet (4 meters) away.  This way it senses things a blind person might run into.

Then two buttons on the handle—one for things that are close and one for things far away—vibrate.  Being warned what’s coming up lets the person have time to change directions.

 Like a flying bat, they can move freely through their environment. The UltraCane limits the risk of bumping into things.

Can you think of anything you might invent based on what’s special about bats? Think about these things:

  • Backward facing knees to make it easy to hang upside down. Also help steer in flight.
  • Funnel-like ears for sharp hearing.
  • Leather wings can wrap up in to stay warm and protect against rainy weather.
  • Wings that let a bat flip and turn easily in flight.

Brainstorm to think what you might invent that mimics bats and would help people.

Visit My Cave

What's it like to live like a bat?  

Cover a table on three sides with a blanket or paper to create a cave.  Have your family or a group of friends crawl inside your pretend cave with you.  While you're there with this group, think about these questions.

  1. Why is a cave a good home for small bats, like Mexican Free-tailed Bats? 
  2. Why do you think big bats, like Grey-Headed Flying Foxes, camp in the open in trees instead?
  3. What are some problems to sharing a cave with other bats?

What Good Are Bats?

Check out the hand-like structure of a bat's wings.

Try this to find out.  

Take a large bowl of popcorn kernels to the gym or outdoors to a paved area of the playground.  Work with friends to scatter 50 popped kernels on the floor or ground.  Count to ten. Then have people place two more popcorn kernels next to each original kernel.  This is as if the insect pests have multiplied.  

Now pretend you are an insect-hunting bat. Have four others pretend they are too.  While someone counts to five, have each “bat” pick up all of the insects they can carry.  Then have other children place two popcorn kernels next to each remaining kernel.  

Repeat these steps two more times, having “bats” collect “insects”.   Then have any remaining “insects” multiply.  

Now look at the results.
  • How much of an affect did the “bats” have on the “insect” population?
  • What limited how much of an effect the bats could have on the insects? 
  • What do you think would happen to populations of insect pests if there weren’t any bats?

My Favorite Bat

Decide which of the bats you read about in Bats: Biggest! Littlest! is your favorite.  Tell why you like it best.  Read the section about that bat again. Also Go on-line to learn more.  Then write a short story about the life of your favorite bat. Be sure your story answers the following questions: 

  • Where does it live?
  • What does it eat?
  • How is this bat different from other kinds of bats?
  • How does it care of its babies?
  • Does it have any enemies?  If so, what must it watch out for?

Bats for Good Measure

Again, here's a good chance to see the arm and hand-like structure of a bat's wing.

The wingspan of the largest flying foxes can be up to 6 feet (about 2 meters).  Take string that length. Find at least 5 things about the same length.  What are they?  

Now, measure each of these things.  Find out how longer or shorter each is compared to a large flying fox’s wingspan. 

  • The teacher’s desk
  • The class’s two shortest students lying head to feet on the floor.
  • The classes two tallest students lying head to feet on the floor.
  • Your teacher’s armspan (from fingertip to fingertip with both arms stretched out)

The wingspan of the Bumblebee bat is 6 inches (15 centimeters).  Take a piece of string that length.  Find at least 5 things about the same length.  What are they?

Now, measure each of these things.  Find out how much longer or shorter each is compared to a Bumblebee Bat’s wingspan.

  • The smallest book in the classroom
  • Your pencil
  • The shoe of the student with the littlest foot
  • Your right hand span (from thumb to little finger with your hand spread wide).  Draw around your hand span on a piece of paper. Then compare to your bat wing measuring string.
So now what do you think about bats?!