Skype Selfie

Skype Selfie
Here I am in a Skype Selfie during one of my recent Skype Visits. WHAT FUN!! Click on this photo to find out about my school visits on SANDRA MARKLE SPEAKS!

Sunday, February 25, 2018


I know about this time in the school year many classes create a class book. I know because--to my total delight--many of you produce a brand new WHAT IF YOU HAD?! book and kindly send me a copy. 
Jen Rusin's 2nd graders
Homestead Elementary School,Aurora , IL)with their class 

So I thought this year I'd jump in with some behind-my-book tips on how I write one of my WHAT IF YOU HAD?! books. You and your students are welcome to jump in and join me in creating WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL TEETH 2?!
Here's the original.

The process can be boiled down to the 4--RRRRs!

1-R is REVV UP! This is where everyone fires up their brain cells and comes up with ideas.

Okay, we already have the book's title and thus it's subject matter. The challenge now is to come up with 11 animals with interesting teeth. Yes, every WHAT IF YOU HAD?! book introduces 11 (count them) animals. And NO-- you can not repeat any of the animals in the first WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL TEETH?! book. Those have already been featured So these animals are out--new animals deserve a turn. 

  • Beaver
  • Great White Shark
  • Narwhale
  • Elephant
  • Rattlesnake
  • Naked Mole Rat
  • Vampire Bat
  • Hippopotamus
  • Bengal Tiger
  • Crocodile
  • Camel 

The REVV UP step is a great time for a little brainstorming. Try these Google searches: 
Animals with Interesting teeth.
Animals with weird teeth.
Animals with special teeth for self-defense.
Animals with special teeth for digging.
Animals with special teeth to build home.

For best results, you'll want to try for an interesting mix. Remember, there are special kinds of teeth that can be included here, such as tusks and fangs. Could probably stretch it to include mandibles (tooth-like parts in some insects).

Try for 12 to 14 "maybe" animals for this list in case one or more doesn't pan out during the next step.

AT THIS POINT--kids can divide up into partner pairs or small groups to share steps 2, 3, and 4.

2-R is RESEARCH! Sure it may have seemed like research was already happening during the REVV UP! step (and it was). Now, it's time for REAL research.
LEFT  LEFT                                                      RIGHT                                                    

Every spread--lefthand and righthand set of pages--has one page with bursts of information about the featured animal's teeth. And one page that shares how it could be fun to actually have that kind of animal part. 

So this is where the class can vote on 11 animals they'd like to include. Set the extras aside as back up if one of the selected animals doesn't work out. That happens when there isn't enough information on its teeth and how they're used. Or no one can come up with how it would be cool to have those teeth that isn't being used for some other animal in your class book.

Check back in the original WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL TEETH?! to see what kinds of information to include on the INFO PAGE--the lefthand page in the spread.

You'll see there is brief info about the shape, structure and even color of the teeth. Plus a sentence or two on the key way those teeth are the perfect adaptation for letting the animal survive and be healthy in its home habitat. 

FACT--And every INFO PAGE has one other fun bit of information about that animal's teeth.

Now for the IMAGINE PAGE. What one totally cool, absolutely fun thing would you be able to do in your world (home habitat) with that animal's teeth? 

If possible, I like my RESEARCH step to include one or both of the following:
1. Check out the animal in person. If I ever visit or Skype visit, be sure an ask me about my personal experience with one boa constrictor named Rosie. :-)

This can be a trip to a zoo or nature center. It can even be a video of the living animal in action. I've had a great time getting up close and personal with some amazing wild animals. I do have fun writing my books! 

                  Me in Antarctica with Adelie Penguins
Me with Baby Mike, an Asian Elephant

2. Talk to an expert. Ask them to visit and talk about an animal they are studying. Or arrange a Skype visit to connect with an expert somewhere else in the world. Many are VERY willing to share. 

Time to reassess your list of 11 animals for your WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL TEETH 2?! book. Kick out and replace any that don't WOW you. Any you can't find enough about to make a good INFO PAGE. Any that just don't lend themselves to a good IMAGINE PAGE.

Then roll on to the next R.


Start with the INFO PAGE. Do what I call "Get the clay out." Roughly write sentences about the key information to be shared. Next, "Work the clay." That means work on squeezing the information down to just two or three fact-packed sentences. 

Then write the FACT in one fun sentence.

NOTE:  I always date each version of my text. This is what I wrote for my "Get the clay out" stage of the Beaver INFO PAGE.
LR pp 4-5
You could have beaver front teeth.
Chisel-shaped and very sharp.
Just right for eating bark and branches
And cutting down trees to build a lodge in a stream.

Beaver front teeth never stop growing.
So you could gnaw from morning to night,
day after day, for all of your life.
Your front teeth would never wear out
if you had beaver teeth.

A beavers lips are behind its front teeth.
That way it can gnaw branches in a pond

and not get a mouthful of water.

Finish by writing one sentence that shares the fun idea for the IMAGINE PAGE.

And on to the next R.


Good writing is as finely chiseled as a perfect diamond--as polished as gleaming silver. So this is the step where the clay that was roughly worked in step 3 is made publication quality and just right for your class book. 

This requires writing. Reading aloud to listen to the rhythm of the text. 

Thinking about just the right words to use and revising. Reading aloud to listen to the beats of the text. 

Trimming the text so it's as tight and to the point as possible. Reading aloud to listen for anything that makes you stumble. Anything you just naturally slip in so it's missing and needs adding. Or anything you just naturally leave out that clearly can be cut. 

For me--after years of practice--I reach the point where what I've written feels just right when I hear it. 

NOTE: This is one stage along the way of revising. Read the "Get the clay out" version out loud. Next read this one out loud. Then read the final published version. See how they've changed. 

Trust me when I tell you there were lots of versions in-between as I tweaked and tweaked and tweaked.

beaver’s front teeth are 
chisel-shaped and very sharp.
Teeth like that are perfect for biting off bark 
and cutting down trees.

A beaver’s front teeth never stop growing.
So you could gnaw from morning to night,
day after day, for all of your life.
Your front teeth would never wear out,
if you had beaver teeth.


A beaver’s front teeth are orange. That’s because they have a coating that contains iron. The iron colors the teeth and makes them very strong.

When the text is right, it's time to illustrate. Photos or art can illustrate the INFO PAGE. But, of course, art will be the only way to bring the IMAGINE PAGE to life.

Now, it's time for the partners and small groups to put their work together. Take a class vote on what order the animals should appear in the book. OR arrange them alphabetically. 

  • The very beginning: Page 2 needs a dedication. So dedicate the book to someone as a class. Or let each child add their own personal dedication. 
  • Page 3 can be exactly like Page 3 in the original book. Or create one as a class. 

At the end of the book: Take one spread (lefthand and righthand page) to remember some of the ways it would be cool to have the animal teeth featured in your class book.

On a second spread, share ways it's good to have people teeth instead of animal teeth. Use the ones in the original book to start you thinking but come up with new ways it's good to have people teeth for your class book. 

And then there is what's called back matter. In the original book, it's one spread that shares information about teeth and tooth care. What other information about teeth could your class share for the back matter of your class book? 

REVV UP the brain cells to come up with new information for this spread. Here's a couple of ideas to get you started:
1. How is toothpaste made and how does it clean teeth. You could include a brief history of tooth brushes and toothpaste.
2. What is tooth decay? What causes it?
3. How do fillings help teeth. 

As a personal note, I usually write the back matter after the RESEARCH step and before I "Get the clay out." That seems to start my writer juices flowing and launches me into writing the book's spreads.

My cat Beau likes to check out my books. In fact, if I don't watch out he checks out how they taste.

I also, almost always, rearrange the order the book's spreads at least once after they're all written. I do this when I see one that have things in common and should be grouped together. Or one just seems to natually follow another. 

Here I am getting in the mood to work on my next WHAT IF YOU HAD?! book. Can you guess what it's about?

Most of all, I have fun discovering and imagining as I work on these books. So I know you will too. ENJOY both the process and the finished books!

Did you guess?!

Monday, January 1, 2018


WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EYES?! (Scholastic, 2017) is
full of animals that are fun to read about.

Plus kids can have fun imagining themselves with those animal eyes. 

But why do these animals have their 
special kind of eyes? 

These activities will let children dig into the "why" of some of these animal adaptations.

Chameleon Eye Spy
For this activity, scatter several objects to find around the classroom. Next, choose two students to team up. Have that pair stand side-by-side. Give each child in the team one empty toilet paper tube. (Or use paper towel tubes for an even bigger challenge.) 

Have the team close their eyes while someone places three colorful objects, such as red apples, somewhere in the classroom. 

Now, have each child use a hand to cover the eye on the side next to their partner. And hold the tube up to their uncovered eye. Only looking through the tubes, each member of the team can look in any direction. However, as soon as one team member spots an object that person must guide their partner to home in on the object. And together they must point out the object.

Then repeat to find the other object.

Let other teams try the challenge. Discuss how having eyes that can look in more than one direction is a useful adaptation. And why it's key that both eyes can also focus in the same direction. 

Also share that chameleon bodies (feet and tail) are designed for getting a grip on their habitat and hanging on tight. Why might chameleons have different eyes if they could move their bodies quickly?   

Bullfrog Eye Spy

Often, there's so many interesting facts it's tough to choose just what to share in the "What If You Had?!" info-burst. That was true for the Bullfrog. So here are some cool facts I didn't share:

*It's a good thing a bullfrog can see nearly all the way around itself because, unlike people, it can't turn its eyes in its head. 

*Bullfrogs are nearsighted.

*Their eyes are extremely sensitive to movement. However, if prey, such as flies, don't move, a bullfrog doesn't see it.

Now, follow the directions on one the following resource sites to make periscopes. Then let children experience peeking over things to spy like a bullfrog. 

Have children write a short story or poem about being a frog hiding underwater while watching their world.

Making A Cardboard Periscope 1  

Making A Cardboard Periscope 2


Once your class has read all the What If You Had?! books, have them create a picture of themselves with all the animal adaptations they wish they had.

Don't miss these teacher-shared animal adaptation activities.

The Science Penguin
I especially liked the "Turtle Adaptations" observing and comparing (through pictures and web searching) a land turtle and an aquatic turtle.  

Camel Adaptation Song byAmihan
This is a fabulously fun video and song sharing how a camel is perfectly adapted to its habitat. I dare you to watch it without singing along! SMILE!

Elementary Shenanigans
Check out the "Give Me A Beak" activity. This creative, hands-on learning experience lets children experience how different kinds of birds are adapted for what they eat. Of course, it's also a natural for making the point that by picking different foods off a habitat's menu lets birds share an ecosystem.

Classroom Blog
I love all the animal adaptation activities shared on this blog!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Okay, here it is--the 2017 edition of 


FIRST, did you know that spiders are the reason it's traditional to put tinsel on trees?

According to the legend, a long time ago in Germany a mother was cleaning the house for Christmas. All the spiders ran away to the attic to stay safe. But that night they came back downstairs. There, they discovered the Christmas tree all decorated with gleaming balls. 

The spiders were so excited, they scurried up and down the tree, checking out everything. Unfortunately, while doing that the spiders covered the beautiful tree with gray webs.

When Santa arrived with gifts, he saw how happy the spinning spiders were. But he knew how sad the children would be to see their web-covered tree. So he touched the tree and the gray webs changed into silver strands. Now the tree was  more beautiful than before.

That's how tinsel came to be...and why every Christmas tree should have a spider in its branches (at least an ornamental spider).

And, sometimes, spiders really do decorate trees for Christmas!

NOW, it's time for the discovery fun and smiles
inspired by my twelve book series: Arachnid World published by Lerner Publishing. 


On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave me to a black widow in a fir tree.

As I watched, that black widow spider dangled upside down from a silk thread. Next, its exoskeleton (armor-like covering) split open along the back. Then the spider pushed and pulled and crawled out of its exoskeleton.

Give one big holiday cheer! 

That spider has a new bigger body for Christmas.

By the way, are you wondering: "What is an ARACHNID?"
It's an animal that always has an exoskeleton and usually has two main body parts: a cephalothoras (like a head/chest) and an abdomen. It also usually has 8 legs.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two striped bark scorpions.

As I watched, the smaller one--the male--grabbed the female's pedipalps (body parts near the mouth). They did a kind of dance, moving forward and backward. Then they went and around and around in circle. They did this over and over for hours.

Did you guess the wind scorpions are doing a mating dance? 
Drink a toast to the happy couple! There will be baby scorpions in the new year. 

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three wolf spiders.

As I watched, a round ball stuck to one spider's spinnerets (the part that gives out silk) split open. Hundreds of tiny spiders crawled out and onto the big spider.

She's a new mother for Christmas!

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four wind scorpions.

Almost at once, one of the wind scorpions ran straight up a nearly vertical rock. How did it keep from falling off? This arachnid has sticky tips on its pedipalps, those long parts you can see at the front of this arachnid.

WHAT A RELIEF!!! The wind scorpion is safe for Christmas!

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five tarantulas.

One goliath bird-eater tarantula was holding a gecko. As I watched it sank in its fangs and brought up digestive juices.

Why in the world did it do that? This tarantula was preparing its meal by breaking it down first. Even big spiders, like tarantulas have very small mouths. Next, the spider will suck the juice in. 

This spider is having its Christmas dinner. 

Find some goodies to nibble and spit on them before you pop them in your  mouth. That way you can eat like a spider this season. But only try this when you're alone so you don't spoil anyone's Christmas cheer. SMILE!

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six female cross spiders spinning.

Why were they spinning?  As I watched, a fly landed on one spider's web. That female ran to the fly and shots strands of silk over it.

Now, I understood! She was storing food.

So, in a way, she was wrapping up presents 
for herself. 

Doesn't that just put you in the holiday spirit?!

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven fishing spiders.

At just that moment, a bat flew past and all the fishing spiders dived down underwater. 

They stayed down for nearly thirty minutes. How were they able to stay underwater for so long? When a fishing spider dives a layer of air coats its body. The spider is able to draw oxygen from the air-filled coat into its book lungs. Those are thin, flat folds of tissue with slits that open through its armor-like exoskeleton.

And, while they were waiting to safely surface, I'm sure they were making their Christmas wish list.

One little fishy for dinner. 
Two little fishies for dinner.
Three little fishies for dinner.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight crab spiders lurking 
inside flowers.

Some goldenrod crab spiders were inside yellow flowers and they were yellow. But one moved to a white flower. Now how would it blend in and hide to catch insects for dinner?

Luckily, when the spider's eyes detect it's on white, its body sheds the yellow coloring matter with its waste. Then it looks white. 

It takes about a week for the spider to change color. But then it's beautifully white as snow for Christmas.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine bobbing  harvestmen.

Why were these spiders bobbing? To keep from being eaten by a bigger predator.

Harvestmen bob in a group when a predator, like a bird, is nearby. That way they look like a bigger animal--hopefully too big to eat.

Of course, I like to think they're bobbing in time to a Christmas carol they're humming.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten ticks-a-sucking blood 
from their host.

As I watched these female dog ticks over several days, their bodies swelled up until they were nearly six hundred times bigger.

How in the world can they swell so big? It's because the hard part covering their body is made up of layers. They spread, fanning apart, as the tick sucks in blood.

And once so big, the ticks were ready to jiggle just like Santa's big belly when he laughs, 

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven jumping spiders jumping.

As I watched, one leapt from one leaf to another to catch an insect.

How could it possibly jump so far? To leap muscles inside the spider's body contract, instantly forcing blood into its four hind legs. This makes them suddenly stretch. And that launches the spider forward.  As it jumps, the spider continually produces silk. It attached that to the surface just before it leapt. So if the spider falls, it dangles instead of crashing.

What's the record for how far a jumping spider can leap? Some have been recorded leaping 40 times their own body length. 

Oh, those spiders could be perfect for pulling Spider Santa's sleigh!

BTW, How far can you jump? Can you jump farther than your body length (meaning your height)?

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a plant with twelve mites-a-multiplying.

On the first day, I didn't even notice the twelve, tiny two-spotted mites on one of my plant's leaves. After all, each was only 0.02 inch long. However, twelve days later, the plant was nearly covered with web strands dotted with tiny mites. 

Each of the twelve mites was a female and they laid about 10 eggs a day. Soon the young hatched, became adults, mated and the new females started laying eggs too. 

That was a Christmas gift that kept on giving and giving and giving!

One thing for sure, I'll definitely never forget that Christmas, when I received:

12 mites a-multiplying
11 jumping spiders jumping
10 ticks sucking
9 harvestmen bobbing
8 crab spiders lurking
7 fishing spiders fishing
6 orb weavers spinning
4 wind scorpions
3 wolf spiders
2 scorpions
And a black widow in a fir tree

As he drove out of sight, Spider Claus spun a silk web with a message of cheer. So I'll share it with you here. Spider Claus said,

 "Merry Christmas to all and may all the days ahead spin for you a very Happy New Year!"