Skype Selfie

Skype Selfie
Click on this photo to find out about my school visits on SANDRA MARKLE SPEAKS!

Monday, February 29, 2016


Frogs of the world need you to be a science detective and help solve a scientific mystery, The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs. 

Scientists are  after a serial killer--one guilty of killing so many frogs that some kinds no longer exist outside of safe places, like zoos. 

So if you're ready to join the science detective task force for this case, check out a copy of the book and dig in. 

Can you identify the killer in time to save the Panamanian golden frogs?

Can you find a way to stop this killer before even more kinds of frogs become victims?

Karen Lips discovered the first frog victims. Read pages 6 and 7 to find out:

1) When did she make this discovery?
2) Where in the world were the bodies?
3) Why was it important that the dead frogs were not decayed?

Just as detectives get help from a Medical Examiner, Karen Lips turned to a pathologist, someone who studies diseases. 

Here's the clue the pathologist discovered when he looked at a sample of the frog victim's skin with a microscope. Check it out on page 8. He reported that it wasn't like anything he'd ever seen before. 

So Karen Lips decided to check out the three usual suspects that kill animals:

*Habitat (home territory) Destruction


*Climate Change

Why is habitat destruction bad for frogs and other animals?

But the land where the golden frogs lived proved to be okay and untouched.

Water pollution can kill frogs. Why was this what was killing golden frogs?

What two things did Karen Lips then check out to prove climate change wasn’t the frog killer? 

Joyce Longcore finally identified the frog killer as a chytrid fungus, a kind of plantlike living things. What did she see that let her figure out this was the killer? Dig into this on pages 18 and 19 

Because she was the first to identify this new kind of chytrid fungus, Joyce was allowed to name it. She called it Batachochytrium dendrobatidis--Bd for short.

Now that the killer's identity is known, your job is to stop it from killing more golden frogs. 

So you'll need to find out these two things about how this killer attacks its victims? Use the clues you've already discovered to answer these questions. 

1) Who's more at risk--adult golden frogs or tadpoles? 

2) In what kinds of environmental conditions is Bd most likely to kill?

Armed with that profile of the killer you can help the scientific SWAT team save Panamanian golden frogs from being killed by Bd. 

Now, find out what was done to help golden frogs survive while scientists tried to stop Bd from killing them.

Here the steps each frog went through coming from its infected habitat to its new safe site.

*Carry golden frogs in plastic bags to cleaning sites.
*Ship healthy frogs to zoos with special golden frog habitats.
*Breed golden frogs in zoo habitats to maintain the golden frog population.
*Collect both male and female golden frogs from their wild habitat.
*Treat captured golden frogs with a fungus-killing chemical for ten days.

Golden frogs aren't the only frogs at risk. Even where you live, frogs are in danger from Bd. They may also be at risk because of habitat destruction, polluted water or climate change.

It's time for you to help launch OPERATION SAVE OUR FROGS.
First, find out what kinds of frogs, such as bullfrogs or leopard frogs, live in your area. Ask a local park ranger, someone at the local library, or someone at a local zoo. 


Leopard frog

Next, learn more about each kind of local frog and make a booklet with a chapter for each local kind of frog. Draw and color a picture of it. Also tell the following information: 

*How big is an adult?
*What does it eat as an adult? As a tadpole?
*What kind of conditions does it need to live as an adult? As a tadpole?

Find out if chytrids are a problem locally and, if so, what can be done to protect the frogs. Would one of the ideas you had for getting rid of chytrids possibly work? If you think it would, share your idea with someone in your local environmental protection agency or with your teacher.

Check out these efforts being done to save frogs around the world. 

Are frogs worth so much detective work and effort?

Definitely! Without frogs there would be lots more insects in the world eating our food crops and spreading diseases to plants, animals, and people. 

We need to solve The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs for the sake of Panimanian golden frogs, all the world's frogs--and for ourselves.

Friday, February 26, 2016


While you're celebrating International Polar Bear here's the story behind my book about one special polar bear. Waiting For Ice (Charlesbridge) actually started, as many of my books do, while I was doing research for another book and--WHOA!--I discovered an incredible true story.

I live and write by the rule that 99.9 percent of my research information must come directly from experts who are working firsthand on the subject.  That sometimes takes me to very interesting places, like the South Pole.  Or, at the very least, it lets me talk with experts on the phone--sometimes via satellite while they're in remote places.

So while writing Animal Predators: Polar Bears (Lerner),
I had the chance to talk to Dr. Nikita Ovsyanikov. 

 Since 1990, he's spent every Arctic summer on Wrangel Island, studying polar bears.  That's no easy task. Let me set the scene for you. 

This is an aerial view of Wrangel Island during the summer and during the winter. 

Wrangel Island in winter.

Wrangle Island in summer.
It's never an easy place to live. The island is North of the Arctic Circle.  It's a rugged, windswept, storm-scoured island about half the size of Rhode Island surrounded by frigid seas.

It's no wonder the island has features with such names as Unexpected River and Doubtful Spit.  Check out this website to find out more about Wrangel Island.

So why go there to study polar bears? It's because that's the place hundreds of polars bears are stranded every summer.  All winter long, polar bears roam solo or a mother travels with her cubs. The bears take advantage of icebergs and raft-like ice floes to rest in between hunting seals, beluga whales, and other sea creatures.  Polar bears are good swimmers, but they can't swim indefinitely. So when the sea ice melts, they haul out.  They're stuck wherever they land until, once again, the sea crusts over with ice.  Because Wrangel Island is one of the few available land masses in prime polar bear territory, as many as 600 bears are stranded there every summer.

Imagine the fights that break out as the bears compete for wind-sheltered resting spots and food.  Finding something to eat isn't a big problem while the island is also home to colonies of migratory birds, such as black bellied plovers and red knots, raising their young or walruses stopping by to rest.  However, those animals leave around September. 

Normally the sea ice returns in September so the polar bears leave the island about the same time as their prey.  However,  global warming has delayed sea ice formation to as late as November.  Then the polar bears are trapped, waiting for ice.  Eventually, the only food source on the island is scraps, like the remains of a whale that washed ashore and dead birds. 

Nikita shared the amazing story of what happened in 2002, a year when the polar bears had to wait until well into November for the sea ice to return.   He said, "One day, I spotted two young cubs alone on a narrow spit of land.  The cubs were small, undoubtedly only born that year, but no mother bear arrived to feed or protect them."

Nikita watched the cubs on the spit for six days. Each day, they screamed for their mother, paced nervously, and bravely lunged to drive away adult bears that came too close. The mother bear never returned, though.  On the sixth day, Nikita discovered there was only a single cub, a young female, stood alone on the spit.  Adult polar bears will attack and kill orphaned bears so Nikita guessed that's what happened to the one cub.  He also worried what might happen to the survivor.

The orphaned cub left the spit and Nikita searched for it each day as he studied the polar bears.  He watched her bravely fend off attacks from adult bears and steal a few bites of dried walrus skin.  One day, she managed to get a dead bird all for herself.  Seeing her fight to stay alive, Nikita nicknamed the cub Tuff.  Watching Tuff became his favorite past time.  Then one day Tuff surprised him by coming to the cabin where he lived on the island. His rule was to only watch the animals, but when he caught Tuff peering longingly into the window of the storage room where he kept his supply of reindeer meat his heart melted. 

Nikita said, "To me it was like watching a child suffer.  I couldn't do it. I thought I'd give her a few happy moments in what would surely be a very short life."

 Then he kept on feeding her from time to time because the sea remained ice free that year until 
well into November. 

When the ice finally returned. Nikita packed up to head home too. The day before he left,  he gave Tuff a farewell gift--a whole reindeer carcass.  So she ate and ate.  Then, very full, Tuff waddled out onto the ice, lay down, and fell asleep. 

In the morning, Nikita looked for Tuff one last time but couldn't find her. Because the ice was broken up, he guessed Tuff must have ridden out to sea aboard a floating ice raft.  He was sure that was the last he'd ever see of the polar bear cub.  What chance could she possibly have of making it through the winter without a mother to teach her to hunt or to catch food for her. 

What a shock he had, when he came back to Wrangel Island that next summer. 

He'd barely settled in when a young adult polar bear plodded up to his cabin.  Nikita said, "I'd spent so many hours looking her in the face and taking her picture, I knew at once this was Tuff."

Tuff seemed to recognize Nikita too. All that summer, whenever she ran into him on the island, she came close and didn't run away.  She also didn't come looking for a handout. She'd learned to survive on her on. Nikita happily watched Tuff growing bigger. When the ice returned that year, she left healthy and strong.

The rest of Tuff's life remains a mystery because Nikita has yet to see her return to Wrangel Island again. He says, "I like to think Tuff's alive and well and raising cubs of her own." 

I like to think she is too.   

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Yes, it's LEAP YEAR! What better reason to think about frogs and toads.

I value these amphibians for all they do for us:

Eating lots of insects like mosquitoes and flies that would otherwise become pests.

Being food for lots of animals, such as birds, snakes, foxes, and some fish like pike and bass. (Okay--not an angle the frogs and toads might want to consider but valuable all the same.)

Plus frogs and toads are just plain cool. Like the fact that they have a sticky tongue attached to the inside front of their mouth and it rolls out in less than a second to snag a bug. Or that to swallow their eyes sink to push food down their throats.

Here are some more fun facts about frogs and toads:

A group of frogs is called an army. A group of toads is called a knot or a nest.

Only male frogs croak. They may also whistle or bark. In some kinds of toads both the males and females make noise.

Some toads play dead or puff up to look bigger, if threatened by a predator.

Toads have special glands on the back of their heads. If the toad is stressed, these give off poison that can kill a predator that bites it. It won't cause warts on people but it's best to not touch toads or wash well if you do.

No matter how many times you kiss either a frog or a toad, though,
it won't turn into a prince.

And here are some fun frog and toad activities to enjoy in honor of 2016 being LEAP YEAR.

Hopping Off The Page

Compare the toads in each of these two book. To do this, first read these books.

Fiction:  Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel (Harper Collins, 1972)

Faction (fictional story where all the facts are true): Toad Weather by Sandra Markle (Peachtree Publishing, 2015)

1. What is one way the toads in these two books are different?

2. What is one way the toads in these two books are alike? 

3. What time of day does the fiction story take place? How about the faction story?

4. Look at the pictures of toads in each book. What's one way the toads look alike? What's one way they look different? 

Say It In A Poem

Create a cinquain (say sin-cane) about a frog or toad. This is a kind of poetry first created by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey about 100 years ago. 

This kind of poem is just 5 lines long. It usually tells a short story about something and follows this format--2,4,6,8.2. That means
The first line has just 2 syllables (pronounced beats)
The second line has 4 syllables.
The third line has 6 syllables.
The fourth line has 8 syllables.
The fifth line has just 2 syllables again.

What's more there's a flow to the short story shared in a cinquain. It goes like this:
Line 1 = Name the subject
Line 2 = Describe it
Line 3 = Show some action
Line 4 = Share some feeling about it
Line 5 = Give a quick conclusion

For example

Bull frog.
Green and hungry.
Sees a fly and snags it.
What a master garden insect

BONUS Fold A Hopper

Visit this website and follow the directions to fold a paper frog. Then push on the frog to make it hop off a starting line. Measure how far it hops. 

Try your paper hopper on 3 different kinds of surfaces, such as carpeting, wood and tile. On which does your frog hop the farthest? How much farther is the longest hop than the shortest?

And one more--take this photo and saying as a story starter.

Okay--because LEAP YEAR has one extra day--here's one more thing to do on this longer-than-usual-month. Read THE CASE OF THE VANISHING GOLDEN FROGS aloud. 
Did science detectives solve this mystery? 
Did they save the frogs?

Monday, February 22, 2016


Five years ago,  my girlfriend and I went to lunch in Christchurch, New Zealand and, like these two women became survivors. Today, with all my Christchurch friends, I remember that day and what followed.

I'd written about major earthquakes but until that day I'd never experienced one.

At 12:51 on February 22, 2011 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand. 

It was shallow--less than three miles deep--and for all those people going about their lives on the earth’s surface, it was world-changing. 

Reporters said the dust from the collapsing buildings and whole hillsides exploding could be seen for miles. I don’t doubt it. But, at the time, dust was the farthest thing from my mind. I was in Christchurch when the earthquake struck. All I was thinking about was staying alive.

I’d already been through the September 4, 2010, Christchurch earthquake. It was as different as night and day from this one. For one thing, its epicenter, the point where sections of the earth slid past each other, was about thirty miles away and about ten miles deep. 

That quake also happened in the early hours of the morning when most people were home in bed. That time, I awoke to a roar like a violent windstorm. 

Then the house began to tremble and the shaking became increasingly violent until it again slowed and, finally, stopped. It was scary, and some buildings were destroyed, but no one died. Along with everyone else who lived through that quake, I thought, “Well, I’ve lived through the big one. Thank heavens my house only suffered minor cracks, and my husband and I are safe.”

Four months on, Christchurch was in recovery mode. The rubble had pretty much disappeared and new buildings were springing up. 

The fact that a few streets still had residents living with port-a-potties was considered absolutely outrageous. After all, the earthquake was an event for the history books—over and done. 

An earthquake was definitely the farthest thing from my mind on February 22nd. My girlfriend was here visiting from out-of-town, so we went out to lunch at one of my favorite Christchurch restaurants. We ate sandwiches and laughed a lot. Then our after-lunch coffees arrived, I picked up my cup, and the restaurant exploded. Everything in the restaurant was instantly shrapnel. Food and dishes launched and smashed. Tables and chairs launched and crashed. People were airborne, screaming, falling, gasping, landing, crumpling. Windows shattered.

I’ve been told the quake only lasted twenty seconds. It felt like hours. It’s hard to believe so much damage could happen in only twenty seconds. Just around the corner from me—less than half the length of a football field away—part of the front of the two-story shopping mall crashed onto the sidewalk, seriously injuring a number of people and crushing a mother and her baby.

Less than a mile away, in the very center of Christchurch, tall buildings pancaked down and parking garages collapsed. In just one-fifth of a minute, 750 buildings became rubble. 

The iconic Christchurch Cathedral’s bell tower tumbled into a heap. 

The fabulous stained glass windows of Knox Centre Church were reduced to sparkly bits. 

Two city buses lay crushed under heaps of bricks, power lines snapped, school buildings cracked, bridges split, and flat roads were transformed into roller coasters. 

Besides that damage in the center of the city, in surrounding suburbs, 100,000 homes suffered significant damage and 10,000 more were completely destroyed. Many people were seriously hurt. Nearly two hundred people died.

But I didn’t know the extent of the damage surrounding me when I fled the restaurant while the earth was still jerking with strong aftershocks. I only knew the nightmare wasn’t over, and I wasn’t yet safe. The world around me was chaos. Piles of shattered glass gleamed in the sunlight outside buildings like weird snowdrifts. Confused people staggered into the street and ambled aimlessly. 

Others sat on the curb weeping. Still others, like my girlfriend and I hugged, and hurried toward the parking lot. 

We skirted bubbling gray mud spouting from cracks in the ground, but the mud was everywhere. The going was difficult. It was also hard to hear—hard to think—over the sounds of chaos and the shrill blaring of many sirens.

That day, the drive home that normally took forty minutes took four and a half hours. Aftershocks repeatedly rocked the car. An especially strong aftershock briefly had the car airborne. Again, that event probably barely lasted a second but it seemed much longer as I gripped the steering wheel. Time was strangely out-of-whack in this alien world. 

My girlfriend came home with me. Her husband and their two sons and their families arrived  later that night. I was blessed that my home again suffered very minor damage and we had electricity, clean water, and working toilets. We settled down to a surreal existence that became a struggle to obtain supplies that were in short supply. Neighbors shared with neighbors to keep going. It was nearly a week before our visitors could safely go home or on to other families living outside of Christchurch. 

Japan’s major quake just a few weeks later took this event out of the world's spotlight. For those of us who were there, the memory dimmed but will never be extinguished. 

Five years on and rebuilding continues. Recovery, in so many ways, continues. The recent Valentine's Day Quake that registered 5.7 on the Richter Scale was a vivid reminder and jolted barely soothed nerves. The city I loved no longer exists. 

But today, as I remember that fateful day five years ago, I also want to remember Christchurch the way it was--an amazingly beautiful city. 

The first time I saw Christchurch just after Christmas in 1996. I’d flown in from Atlanta, Georgia late at night and gone straight to my hotel. The next morning as the New Zealand summer sun rose bright and hot, I walked across a bridge, over a beautiful meandering river, and into the city. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, opening the door from her black and white world into the spectacular, brilliantly colored world of Oz. It was a vibrant, culturally rich city that would become my home for fourteen years.

Most of those buildings are gone now but the people who I count as dear friends--the people who are the heart of Christchurch--remain. I'm thinking of them today, remembering the past, and hoping for strong, safe beautiful future for Christchurch.