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!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

THE TWELVE ARACHNIDS OF CHRISTMAS ARE BACK!!!





Okay, here it is--the 2017 edition of 

THE TWELVE ARACHNIDS OF CHRISTMAS! 

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. 

ENJOY!







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.
AND MORE!






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, 
HO! HO! HO!





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
5  TARANTULAS
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!"



Saturday, November 4, 2017

SPELL IT AMAZING!



WHAT A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE! 

My book The Long, Long Journey: The Godwits Amazing Migration (Millbrook/Lerner) has been selected as one of 5 books that will be used to select First Grade Level spelling words for the 2018 Great Words, Great Works Scripps National Spelling Bee. What a great idea to have children master spelling words from the context of reading a book. 

Spell me H-O-N-O-R-E-D!


Every year godwits make a marathon migration from their summer home in Alaska to their winter home in New Zealand. This bird's story is very special to me. For almost fourteen years, I lived near Christchurch, New Zealand.  Along with other New Zealanders, I eagerly awaited the godwits arrival each year in September.

Here I am one day when the godwits arrived.
Check out the headline--"Godwits Are Back!"

That always signified winter was over and spring had arrived.  







So, when scientists tracking the birds reported they were nearing land, bird watchers rushed to the shores.  Then as soon as the first group of godwits were spotted, the news was broadcast on the radio and television.  The big cathedral in Christchurch also rang its bells.  Everywhere banners were raised and crowds rushed to the estuaries to cheer the arriving birds.


Now open the book and enjoy the story. Then have fun digging deeper with these discovery activities.

Check out the aerial view of Cape Avinof, Alaska (the godwits' starting place) by visiting this website.  

Next, do a Google search to find out how many miles it is between Alaska and New Zealand, the godwits' destination.  

Now, think about how you would travel from Kipnuk Airport, the closet airport to Cape Avinof, Alaska to Christchurch, New Zealand, one of godwits destinations in New Zealand.  




Check airline websites to answer the following questions:


  • Can you fly non-stop, the way the godwits do?  If not, how many stops do you have to make along the way?
  • How much will it cost you to fly between Alaska and New Zealand?
  • The trip isn't free for the godwits, either.  However, what it costs the birds isn't money.  Read page 15 of The Long, Long Journey to find out what it costs these birds to make such a long flight.


So you learned what it costs the godwits is energy--what they get from eating and storing body fat.  Adult godwits have to double their weight between June and September.  Chicks have to both grow up and put on weight.

Just for fun, figure out what you would weigh if you doubled your weight to make this long trip.




Look at the godwit's long legs.
Such long legs help it wade in the mud to find food.
Now, try this activity to find out how the godwit uses its long beak to find and pick up food.

First, cut the top off an empty gallon-sized milk jug. Fill it nearly full of wet sand. Next, have an adult partner bury five pennies in the sand and smooth the top flat to hide the coins.  Then use chopsticks or two pencils held like chopsticks to probe the sand for the pennies. Once you find them, use the chopsticks to pluck the pennies out of the sand.


Take a close look at this picture of godwits in flight.  Look at how they hold their wings and head.

How do you think holding their head and wings this way helps them fly?

Check out what the godwits are doing with their long legs while they fly.  Why do you think the birds hold their legs in this position rather than just letting them hang down below their body.



Now, spend some time watching your local birds take off and fly. Draw a picture of one of these birds in flight.  Be sure to show how they stretch out their wings, how they hold their head, and what they do with their legs.

Just for fun, play this game to find out how godwits stay together in a flock even while flying through thick clouds and heavy rain.  


  1. Ask six of your friends to stand in a circle around you. 
  2. Close your eyes and ask them to make noises one at a time.  
  3. Try pointing to each person as they sound off.  Have your friends score a point for you each time you point at the person making the sound.  
  4. Now you know that being noisy helps birds keep track of each other and fly together.




The godwits take advantage of the fact that earth's northern and southern hemisphere's have summer at opposite times of the year. They always live where it's comfortably summer and there's plenty to eat year round.  To do that, though, means the godwits have to make a Long, Long Journey.

Now that you've explored these amazing birds read the book aloud again. This time it will be special--guaranteed! Children will feel like they're reading about good friends taking a very long journey. So have them pretend to be a godwit and write their own story about their Long, Long Journey.


Monday, October 2, 2017

IT'S DINOSAUR MONTH!!!!!!

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.
Leaellynasaura
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

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. 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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

GOOD GOLLY it's Autumn!

GOOD GOLLY it's Autumn!

I love this season! Whether you live where autumn brings lots of changes or only a few, it's still a great time for seasonal fun. So let's jump in and get started.

CHOMP!

There are thousands of kinds of apples. However, only the most popular are grown and harvested. Even that changes as new varieties emerge. Today, the top ten are most often listed as the following:
Pink Lady 
Honeycrisp
Fuji
Golden Delicious
McIntosh
Cox's Orange Pippin
Red Delicious
Gala
Jonasgold
Cortland



Collect samples of any three then compare. 
Do the apples look different? 
Check color. 
Shape. 
Size.


Now wash and slice. Then taste one sample. Rate it from 1 to 4 on crispness with 1 being the softest and 4 being the crispest.
Also rate it on sweetness with 1 being the least sweet and 4 being the sweetest.

Have a swig of water. Next, repeat these two tests with the second apple. Then with the third. 

Now create an advertisement for your favorite kind of apple. Tell why that's the best kind to buy, eat, and enjoy. Share something that will make people who've never tasted that kind of apple really want to try it.

If you can, share your findings on sweet taste with at least five friends and build a bar graph to compare the kinds of apples. 

It's estimated that each person in the United States eats about 50 apples a year. So while your investigating, you'll be on your way to eating your fair share of this year's crop.



RIDDLE: What kind of fruit do ghosts like?
Boo-berries. 







SHRINK A HEAD

In pioneering times, apples were carved and allowed to shrink and dry to make heads for dolls. You can carve an apple head to create a spooky shrunken head. Just follow the easy steps.



1.  First, peel the apple. Leave some peel on top for "hair". 

2.  Plan what you want the face to look like.

3.  Pour 4 cups of water into a bowl and stir in a teaspoon of salt.  Place the carved apple in this for about two hours.
That soften's the apple's flesh. 

4.  Next, use an unsharpened pencil or a popsicle stick to push in eye sockets. Also carve the shape for a nose and mouth.

5.  Push raisins into the eye sockets for eyes. You may also want to poke unpopped popcorn kernels into the mouth for teeth.

6.  Set your complete apple head on a plate. Check daily to see how the face changes as the apple dries.

The dried apple head usually won't mold. That's why people used to preserve food, like apples, for winter by drying it.  The lower water content helps prevent bacteria and mold growth.

Now, create a doll body for your apple head. It could be made out of poster board. It could be made out of paint stirring stick and have cloth clothes. Or something else. Whatever you make, make a list of the steps to follow. That way, others can make an apple head doll just the way you did.



RIDDLE: What's a vampire's favorite fruit?
Neck-tarines.














SNAP IT UP

In ancient times, Celts and Romans thought apples were magical fruit. So a popular tradition in Great Britain was apple-snapping. In those long ago times, a rope was tied to the center of a stick that was hung from the ceiling. Next, an apple was stuck on one end of the stick. A candle was attached to the other end. Once the candle was lit the stick was started twirling. Contestants then tried to snatch the apple without getting burned. This was a very dangerous game. Later, it was turned into bobbing for apples.



To bob for apples, fill a large plastic storage tub or child's plastic wading pool nearly full of water. Wash the apples--one for each contestant. Set these afloat. To play each person, in turn, bends over the tub with their hands behind their back. Have someone time each person working to snatch an apple in their teeth. The fastest snatcher wins. Only each person wins a tasty apple snack. 

Write a short story about a bobbing-for-apples contest.




RIDDLE: What kind of horses do ghosts ride?
Nightmares.












MORE FUN!

You're not done yet.

Twist and Shout--Find an apple with a stem. Twist it around and around saying a letter of the alphabet with each complete turn. How many letter can you say before the stem separates?

Cut and Print--Apples make great print blocks. Cut a nice firm apple in half. Use a sturdy plastic knife or popsicle stick to cut away parts of flesh. Pour tempera or finger paint on a sturdy paper plate. Touch the cut apple to this to coat. Then press firmly on paper. Repeat to "stamp" your design all over the paper. If you want more than one color, wash off the apple and pat dry with a paper towel. Then keep on stamping with a new color of paint.

Johnny Did It--Look up Johnny Appleseed on-line. Then make up a short play about his real life (at least what people think may be real). Or let children work together to make up a short play about something that Johnny Appleseed could have done--maybe even in your home town. Then invite visitors to see them act out this play.





Monday, August 21, 2017

EYE SPY WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EYES?!

The newest member of the 
WHAT IF YOU HAD?! family is here!
THIS SERIES IS NOW AVAILABLE IN LIBRARY BINDING AS WELL AS PAPERBACK

I've been delighted to read Tweets and Face Book posts sharing how the books in this series are going beyond being fun informational texts. I'm hearing from teachers, librarians and media specialists that the WHAT IF YOU HAD?! books are favorite mentoring text for writing experiences. 


I LOVE knowing these books are inspiring children to write and be creative! 


Jen Rusin's class at Homestead Elementary in Aurora, Illinois

sharing WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EARS?! 

So I thought I'd jump in and share some ways to let WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EYES?! launch young writers. Here goes...

FAVORITE EYES

I have a favorite animal in each and every WHAT IF YOU HAD?! book. And my very favorite animal eyes are found on pages 14 through 15. Yes, I have my reasons why this animal's eyes especially appeal to me. It includes both the real facts about those eyes and the way Howard McWilliam, my super illustrator, brought my imagined use of those eyes to life with his art.




So now your challenge is to find your very favorite animal eyes in this book.  Write a convincing argument for why those animal eyes are truly the coolest in WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EYES?! And why you could enjoy claiming them as your own.





You might also want to write about which animal eyes you'd least like to have of all the examples in WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EYES?!

Teachers: Why not wrap this activity up by building a class bar graph for favorite animal eyes.  You could color in bars on paper. Or have everyone line up and physically be part of a favorite animal eye graph. 



I'd love to see your student-graph photos!


By the way... Here's a peek at an early stage of the book when the illustration is still a sketch. At this stage, I'm checking to be sure it's both fun and scientifically correct.




BLINK AND SWITCH



What if one kind of animal could claim another animal's 
eyes?! 


Imagine a dragonfly having colossal squid eyes? How might that help it hunt insects? How might having colossal squid eyes cause problems for a dragonfly?









Now imagine a tarsier having dragonfly eyes? How might that help it be an even better insect hunter? How might having dragonfly eyes cause problems for a tarsier?








Are there any animal eyes in WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EYES?! that might be even better for the llama than its very own eyes? Suggest an animal eye switch. Then come up with three reasons to make a strong case for that switch.




OUT TAKES

I start working on every book by brainstorming a long list of animal possibilities to include. Then, as I research, I weed out the maybes to come up with the very best candidates--ones that are both interesting, if possible haven't appeared in other books, and that readers will have fun imagining having themselves. 


In WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EYES?! there were three animals that stayed in the running right up to the final cut. 


Here are the three Eye Runner Ups:

Jumping Spider



Hippopotamus





Giant Panda





Read books and search on-line to find out more about each of these "Eye Runner Ups". Then pick one and create your own two-page spread for your choice. 

On the lefthand page, you'll need to briefly tell about that animal's eyes and what makes them special. Be sure to include a FACT. That's one extra bit of information about a way that animal's eyes are just right for it. 

On the righthand page, come up with a way it would be fun for you to have that animal's eyes. For extra fun, add a drawing of yourself doing whatever you imagined possible thanks to having that animal's eyes.


EYE HAD AN ADVENTURE!



It's story time! Children can either pick their own animal from WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EYES?! or pick the name of one of those animals from slips of paper in a hat.

The challenge is to imagine waking up one day and having that animal's eyes for one whole day. 





What adventure did you have? 
Did your animal eyes  help you solve a mystery? 
Did they help you be a hero? 
Did those animal eyes cause you any problems?

Write your story in three short paragraphs: 
1. One to launch what happens. 
2. One for the action in the middle.
3. One for the conclusion. 

Of course, illustrations are a nice touch. 

Teachers: Be sure to allow time for young writers to read their stories aloud. After all, WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL EYES?! is meant to be read aloud so everyone can share the fun. These EYE HAD AN ADVENTURE stories are best shared read aloud too.


GOOD NEWS!! 
All of the books in the WHAT IF YOU HAD?! Series--even ANIMAL EYES--are now available in Library Binding. So they're ready to be read, and read, and read, and read, and READ....