BEST BOOKS

BEST BOOKS
I'm THRILLED to share that THE GREAT LEOPARD RESCUE (Millbrook/Lerner) has been named to the Children’s Book Committee at the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature's Best Children’s Books of the Year list. And it earned a STAR. SMILES!Click on this photo to find out about my school visits on SANDRA MARKLE SPEAKS!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

THE STORY BEHIND THIRSTY, THIRSTY ELEPHANTS


So I’ll share a little known secret about me—I have a thing for elephants.



It goes back to my childhood, which you might find quirky if you knew I grew up in Fostoria, a small town in the middle of miles and miles of northern Ohio farmland. HOWEVER, when I was about ten years old Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus came to my hometown for one day.


AND they put up their tents in the field directly across the street from my house.

That meant the elephants marched from the train station past my house and spent the whole day, well from my point of view, visiting me. I definitely spent the day with them. I was intrigued.



Fast forward to the early days of my writing career. I was offered the opportunity to spend three days visiting Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus on tour while I worked on an article about world famous animal trainer Gunther Gebel Williams. Of course, I politely said, “YES!”


Besides his big cats, Guther’s animal troupe included elephants. I will never forget walking alongside him as he checked over and cared for his elephants. It was my first chance to see elephants up-close. And I learned they were gentle giants, clearly intelligent, constantly curious and genuinely elegant. I was impressed.


After that, I read all I could about elephants. I visited zoo elephants and nature park elephants. And along the way of my life’s journey, I became a mother with young children and a children’s nonfiction book author.



So, I shared my interest in elephants with my children and tucked elephants into my books wherever I could to share them with young readers. 

Although there are more examples, elephants make a guest appearance in Math Mini-Mysteries (Atheneum, 1993), which interestingly was my last all black and white children’s nonfiction book before publishers FINALLY became convinced children’s nonfiction could be full color. Elephants also slipped into Animals Marco Polo Saw (Chronicle Books, 2009) and became the one animal that makes repeated featured appearances in my WHAT IF YOU HAD?! Series (Scholastic).  




And thanks to the Scholastic books I had an opportunity to visit Baby Mike, a six-month old Asian elephant.

















He made sweet baby elephant noises. And was intriguingly working on conquering using his trunk. When he reached out and wrapped his soft, wrinkly little trunk around my hand I was thrilled—that is right up until I discovered he was working on removing my ring and doing a good job of it. 


But by now my relationship with elephants had become truly personal. I was enthralled.





Fast forward to my being a grandmother because, well, time does pass. And while I’d written over two hundred books for children, I was still on the lookout for a new elephant story to share. Then I found it. Somewhere in the vast piles of research I do all the time there was a fascinating story about a herd of elephants that totally survived when other herds suffered serious losses during the worst drought to hit Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park in nearly twenty-five years. With some more digging, I tracked down Dr. Charles Foley who was in Tanzania studying the Tarangire’s elephant herds. I remember listening intently during our Skype visits as he shared the details of that surviving elephant herd’s story with me.

I was especially interested because the herd had a hero--the elderly herd leader named Big Mama. She was known to be at least thirty years old—possibly older—and was a grandmother. The drought was extremely hard on all the elephants in the Park but was hardest on the little calves because elephants need to drink water daily. Can’t go more than two days without a drink. Amazingly, when most of the reliable water sources in the Tarangire dried up, Big Mama led her herd out of the Park to another water source. Dr. Foley is certain that wasn’t chance. He believes Big Mama is old enough to have been a young elephant during the last terrible drought. And he’s convinced she led her herd to a water source she remembered from that past drought.



What a great story! What an amazing elephant! I knew I had to share Big Mama’s story with children. Happily, Charlesbridge agreed and I wrote it, pouring in the sights and the sounds of Big Mama and her herd as they struggled during the drought, searched for water—found a little wherever they could—and kept plodding on. Grandma elephant (Big Mama) led them on and on with determination, persistence, caring and courage. And, at last, brought her herd to WATER.


It was nearly two years after I first discovered the story in 2012 and began to dig into it that my research became Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants.

And as is often the case in illustrated books, producing the finished art required another two years. But I believe you’ll agree the pictures are gorgeous, marrying with the unfolding story to bring it fully to life.



Finally, on April 4, 2017, Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants became available for young readers. But there was a breath-holding moment just before the book went to press, I needed to update the Author’s Note about Big Mama. Because of her age, I was nervous as I reached out to Dr. Foley again to catch up and to ask about the elephant who had become dear to my heart. To my great joy, Dr. Foley assured me Big Mama was still alive and doing well. In fact, under her leadership her herd had grown to be forty elephants strong—one of the largest herds in Tanzania’s Tarangire Park.
I was delighted!


Are there more elephants to feature in my books? Are there more elephant stories to tell? I’m absolutely sure of it.

But--I love this one!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

IS IT TOAD WEATHER YET?!




TOAD WEATHER is one of those books you can have fun reading more than one time.  So after you read it the first time, read it again and again as you have fun with these activities.

Compare and Contrast

Can you find ways things change for Ally during her rainy day adventure in TOAD WEATHER?




1.  How does Ally feel about a rainy day at the beginning of the story?
     And when she's walking home with Mama and Grandma at the end of the story?

2.  When she first gets outside, Ally starts to hurry.  How is this different from the way Ally walks through the puddles?



How does Ally walk while carrying toads across the street.

How does Ally walk when she's on her way home?

3.  Looking out the window at the beginning of the story, Ally thinks the rainy day is just gloomy gray. But outside, she thinks it's like being inside something colorful.

What is that something? 

Why does she think that?



What Happened When?


Ally discovered a lot of things during her TOAD WEATHER adventure. 
She counts five of them as surprises. 


List those surprises in the order they happened. 
Which one did Grandma think wasn't a nice surprise.

Its On The News



Pretend you are a television news reporter. Based on what happens in the story, write a TOAD WEATHER news report about this event.

Include a quote from Ally about what it was like to help the toads.

Include a quote from Grandma too.

Another Story








Ally isn't the only child who discovered the migrating toads. Look at the little boy and his mother on pages 18 and 19.  Now, write a short story about his adventure. Be sure to tell why you think this boy and his mother are outside on a rainy night. Did they come especially to help or just happen onto the scene?

From the picture, how do you think the boy feels about the toads?

Tell why you believe he did or didn't help the toads.




Toads Eye View





Now tell about this TOAD WEATHER night from one toad's point of view.














Make this a story about an American toad. That's the kind of toad featured in TOAD WEATHER.


Tell how the toad goes from its home in a nearby park to a reservoir on the other side of a busy street. Be sure to include real facts about these toads.  Find out more about American toads online at these websites.
BioKids: Critter Page about American Toads
Fairfax County Schools American Toad Page

Make your story an adventure by giving the toad a couple of close calls. A bird or a dog might almost catch it. It might almost get hit by a car before someone carries it across the road.

Extra Fun


And don't miss this website--Doug Wechsler Author and Photographer--American Toad. You'll see photos and learn about the stages an American toad goes through during its life.

It's a special site to visit after reading TOAD WEATHER because Dr. Doug Wechsler was one of the expert's who shared information and checked the facts included in this story.

Now, just for fun, draw lines on a white paper plate, dividing it into four parts. Then draw and color a picture of one stage of the American toad's life cycle on each part of the plate.

Egg
Tadpole
Toadlet
Adult


Then poke a pin through the center of the plate into a sturdy plastic straw. Spin the plate to see the toad's life cycle repeat over and over again--just as it does in real life.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

RESEARCH GREAT LEOPARD SEARCH


I'm often asked  how I do the research for my books. So let me walk you through the research that led to THE GREAT LEOPARD RESCUE.

First, I have to tell you I LOVE what a detective job this is. You see, for me, it's all about tracking down and interviewing the key suspects--I mean people whose experiences or scientific studies are critical to the story. 

First, a news story caught my attention. Basically, it reported that there are only about 50 Amur leopards still living wild and free. I thought--OMG--that's like two classrooms of school kids--PERIOD! 



And, the story reported that because of this extremely small wild population, there was an effort underway to start a new wild population in Russia where these cats live. It would be a way to make sure, if anything happened to the existing population, there would still be wild Amur leopards.



That launched me into doing a lot of reading about Amur leopards: news stories on-line, scientific journals, pretty much anything I could find to dip my toe into the information sea to figure out what I didn't know. 

I'm sure that sounds crazy but I go into a book with just the seed of an idea. Then by beginning to dig into the topic I start to figure out what I don't know about it so I can map out what I need to find out. That's how I get to the heart of the story in order to share it. I feel like when I write I'm reading the book aloud to my reader--the two of us are brain-to-brain sharing the journey of the story. And that story primarily grows out of my interviewing a lot of different people each of whom contribute a piece of the puzzle that is the story.



The first interview for THE GREAT LEOPARD RESCUE was with Barbara Meyer in October 17, 2014. I'd discovered the Colchester Zoo in the UK had Amur leopards. When I talked to the zoo's public relation's person, she told me about Barbara, a photographer who had spent years at the zoo with special access to these big cats photographing them. Barbara offered my first "close-up" insights into the behavior of Amur leopards. 



And that led me to be sure of three things: 
1) these were amazing cats who deserved to exist wild and free.

2) I needed to talk to researchers who knew wild Amur leopards. I mean people who had actually spent time with them in the wild. They were the only ones who  could tell me about the Amur leopards roaming their native habitat in far northeastern Russia.

3) I wanted to know all the details of the plan to start a new wild Amur leopard population in Russia. 
CAN YOU SPOT THE LEOPARD?




Next up was an interview with Dale Miquelle who lives in Russia. 




No I didn't go there for real, although I would have loved this opportunity. But more and more mentally I travelled into Russia as I dug into the research for this book. And I did side research to learn about the trees, climate, terrain, seasons of the Amur leopard's home habitat. 

Back to Dale Miquelle--he first went to Russia in 1992 with the Hornocker Wildlife Institute to study Amur tigers (also called Siberian tigers). He moved on to a project on Amur leopards in 1994. Then he stayed and became director of the Russian Wildlife Society. In fact, he settled and married and made his home in Russia. As we talked, he flowed in and out of speaking English to me and Russian to others in his office. 

Dale was a wealth of information about Amur leopards, the Land of the Leopard (a national park created to protect the remaining leopard population), the Lazovsky Nature Reserve (site chosen for the introduced population), the politics of protecting wildlife in Russia, and he became my first gatekeeper.  By that I mean my research journey always really gets going when someone says to me, "You also need to talk to... And here's their contact information." 

I always finish my interviews by asking my key experts, like Dale, if they'll be an expert reader for my book to check what I'm sharing is absolutely accurate. I also ask if they have any photos to help bring the story to life. And I ask if can I contact them again, if I have more questions. Of course, as I go deeper into my research I always have more questions.

One of the people Dale connected me to was Darron Collins. He had worked with the World Wildlife Fund for a decade focusing on the Amur leopards. He was very tuned in and involved in the effort to found this new wild population. And he brought the place as well as the cats to life for me. I remember him saying, "I'll never forget standing on an exposed peak in Russia with my guide pointing out China in one direction and Korea in another. So this big cat lives in all three countries, making it the most diplomatically challenging wild animal on the planet."



WHOA!


Darron also talked to me about what it looked like and felt like to walk through the forests where the Amur leopards live--"on the Russian side it's much like being in the Appalachian forest in North Carolina." I'd lived in Asheville, North Carolina and hiked in those forests in all seasons. So I could see it, smell it, feel it.


And Darron talked about the Russian Zapovedniks which are big areas like national parks but totally set aside for wildlife. The only people allowed in are scientists and guards watching out for wildfires and for poachers (illegal hunters). 

Darron shared about studying Amur leopards using camera traps to "capture" them. He shared what he'd learned about the wild leopard's behavior, use of the forest, even their rare social interactions as males and females come together to mate, females raise young, and adults have chance encounters in the forest with other adult leopards. That mainly happens because the forests where these big cats live are fragmented due to logging and people building roads and even towns. Then Darron shared this chance sighting of a wild Amur leopard. 

"It was amazing. I was setting up camera traps and the guy I was with tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and saw the cat. It's more like you've seen a ghost because it's so on the brink of extinction."

Another expert Dale Miquelle referred me to was John Lewis. He's the Director of Wildlife Vets International and he opened a key door into this story. That's partly because he was the person most in touch with those in Russia who were choosing the reintroduction site--the forested area where the new Amur leopard population would be launched. And he was closely involved in helping to make decisions about how Amur leopards would be introduced to live wild and free in this new location.

Over the better part of the next two years, John and I talked on a number of occasions about the reintroduction project. He also shared fascinating stories about the times he had the opportunity to be literally hands-on studying wild Amur leopards. 

That happened because people patrolling to protect those rare 50 Amur leopards noted where they saw tracks and scat (droppings). Then they put up camera traps in those areas to "capture" the cats on film. Where the photos recorded frequent Amur leopard traffic, they set leg snares--traps that would catch a cat without harming it. And John stood by with his team ready for action. As soon as and Amur leopard was caught, it was darted with a tranquilizer gun. 


Next, John and his team took over. They weighed the cat, measured it, took blood and tissue samples--checked everything possible about the cat's health. 




In addition to lots of  scientific information, John shared something more. He talked about actually getting to touch some of these rarest wild animals on the planet. 

John said, "Of course, there's usually a little moment during the whole procedure when I pinch myself and say, 'this is really cool.' Then I snap back into professional mode." 

Jo Cook was fascinating to talk to for another reason. Based in the U.K., her job is to keep track of all the Amur leopards in zoos anywhere in the world. She knows all about their health and their family history. Her job for this project was to choose which of the zoo leopards would travel to Russia to become the founding parents for the new population. The parents would go back to their zoo homes; their cubs would live wild and free.



This is a VERY IMPORTANT JOB. By the time I finished the book, the founding pairs had not yet been chosen. But how they would be chosen and how bearing and raising cubs to become the pioneers for the reintroduction program had been set. Be sure and check out how that program will work in my book THE GREAT LEOPARD RESCUE. It's fascinating!

There were more expert interviews--but I'll share just one more--Linda Kerley. She's the Amur Tiger and Leopard Project Manager for the Zoological Society of London. She had moved to Russia to study the tigers. 


Then she stayed to study Amur leopards. She married and worked with her Russian husband Michael Borisenko to continue those studies, using a creative approach. They trained dogs to track Amur leopard scat (droppings) in order to send it to scientists. Scat was easy to find during the winter when the ground was snow-covered. However, it was nearly impossible to spot in other seasons on the leaf-covered forest floor. But scientists needed to analyze this resource. They needed to learn what prey Amur leopards needed to be able to catch to eat in all seasons. That would help scientists and politicians work together to choose the site for the new wild population. 


Linda's story of training dogs for this unique job was fascinating. But the "WHOA!" moment was when one of her dogs actually met a big cat. 

"Our dog went up on a ridge, reached the top of this rock as I was climbing. I stopped and turned to talk to my husband when the leopard jumped our dog. My husband and I charged, yelling and--luckily--chased the leopard off. But that dog wouldn't track scat anymore. We were getting such valuable information from this project, though, that we couldn't stop. So we started working with another dog."

Now you have a little behind-the-book insight into the research journey I traveled for THE GREAT LEOPARD RESCUE. Every book is a new journey of discovery--a fresh opportunity to connect with amazing on the front line of discovery researchers.



I do LOVE researching my books--love sharing what I discover with young readers. 


Thursday, February 23, 2017

ARE YOU READY TO MARCH THROUGH MARCH?!






March Fourth is National March Forth And Do Something Day

I LOVE it because March is a "capitonym"--a word whose meaning changes depending on if it's capitalized or not. So capitalized it's this month and otherwise it means a way to walk. So, while you march on this March day, have fun with WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL FEET!? 


LET’S STOMP


Have each child choose his or her favorite animal feet. 

Choose some foot stomping music and have the children spread out at least an arm’s length apart. Then turn on the music and have kids dance where they’re standing. 

Remind them to dance as if they had their favorite animal feet. 



Afterwards, ask the children to tell how it was different to dance with that animal’s feet. Next, have them tell how they think it would be different to do each of these things if they had that animal’s feet.
  • Take a bath
  • Pick up their room
  • Make their bed

Now, let them pick another animal’s feet, start the music, and dance some more!


BEASTIE SHOE SHOP

Start by having children list all the kinds of shoes they can think of. That list will include: boots, sneakers, loafers, high heels, waders, sandals, high tops—and more.

This animal's shoes will need to be big and tough!


As a class, vote on one animal from WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL FEET!? to treat to their very first pair of shoes. 

Share building a list of ideas to answer these questions:
  • What should those shoes do for the animal’s feet?
  • What material will the shoes need to be made out of to fit the animal’s habitat and behavior?
  • What special features could be added to the animal’s shoes to make them extra special?  


Have the children work alone or in small groups to draw and color pictures or make models of their special animal’s new shoes.

MY NEAT FEET

The Rest of the Story


Have children look through WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL FEET!? and pick their favorite picture of a boy or girl with animal feet. Now have them tell the rest of the story.

Each of those pictures shows only one moment in a story. Challenge children to imagine--and tell--the rest.
  • What led up to the moment shown in the picture?
  • What is really happening in the picture?
  • How is this story likely to end?



For example, look on page 19 at the boy digging for treasure with aardvark feet. How did he get the treasure map and find the right spot to dig? 
How does he feel about finding the treasure? And what kind of treasure did he find?
What will he do now that he’s found the treasure? How will it change his life?

NEW FEET





I'm sure everyone will agree that the animals in the book  have totally cool feet. For this activity ask children to pick an animal that isn’t in the book. 

Have them dig into books and work with older students or adults to search on-line and find out about that animal. 


Most important, encourage them to find the answers to these two questions:
1. What are that animal's feet like?
2. How does the animal use its feet to move and stay alive?


Next, like WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL FEET!? have children make two-pages (a left hand/right hand spread) for their animal. On one page, they should answer the two questions. On the second page, they should share at least one super fun way it would be cool to have that animal’s feet for a day.

FOOT SWAP
















Ask children to imagine what it would be like if one day an animal woke up with different feet. What if....
A Mountain Goat had White Rhinoceros feet?
A Cheetah had Eastern Gray Kangaroo feet?
A Barn Owl had Cheetah feet?
A Giant African Millipede had Green Basilisk feet?
A Wolf had Duck-Billed Platypus feet?

Or make up another foot swap.  

Challenge children to think of something totally cool that animal could do with its new feet. Be sure they also consider how that swap might cause serious problems.


Okay, these activities got you started. Now, MARCH FORTH and come up with even more. 
smile emoticon

Sunday, January 1, 2017

THE NOSE KNOWS




It's the perfect time to launch the new year with activities focusing on the one and only NOSE.

That's because it's finally here! WHAT IF YOU HAD AN ANIMAL NOSE?! has been published. So don't wait another minute. Take a deep breath and get started.

More Than A Sniffer





Dig into the book to find out some of the cool things these animals can do with their nose besides sniff. 
Elephant
Wart Hog
Star Nosed Mole
Giant Anteater



What your favorite animal nose in the book? What would you like about having that kind of animal nose?

Is there an animal's nose that's not in the book but you think should be?


Love That Smell!




Smells are an important part of our memories. 
Invite children to share some of their favorite smell memories, such as eating popcorn with friends, your family getting a brand new car, your pet being wet from the rain or eating a favorite fruit.

Perhaps there is also a scent that reminds them of their home or a place they love to go, such as the park or the movies.

Make a list together of words that can be used to describe smells. You'll think of more but here are a few to get you started:
sweet
spicy
stinky
sweaty
piney
flowery
sour
lemony
rotten


Smells Like Me

Many animals use their sense of smell to know who belongs to their pack, flock, pride or other kind of group. This fun activity will let children use their noses to find their group. 

You'll need one self-sealing plastic bag for each child. Put a cotton ball into each. Next, drip a couple of drops of one of the following liquid flavorings on each cotton ball: 

  • peppermint
  • lemon
  • vanilla

Be sure there are at least two bags that have the same scent. If lots of children are sharing this activity, use additional flavorings. 

To play, have the children move around without talking. And tap each other gently on the shoulder to ask permission to sniff the flavoring in each bag.  Once two children find they share a scent have them team up to search out other members of their scent group. 

Finish by having the children guess their group scent. 


Trick Your Nose



Our tongues can easily taste sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Other flavors are partly what we taste and partly what we smell. It's the reason foods don't taste the same when we have a cold.

Check out how much smell effects taste by giving  children an apple or apple slices to eat. Have them describe the taste after one bite. Next, drip drops of liquid cooking vanilla on one cotton ball for each child. Have them hold this close enough to their nose to pick up the scent and take a second bite of their apple slice.

The flavor will seem different. Ask children to describe how changing what they can smell has changed the apple's taste.

Have a great time investigating the sense of smell while you enjoy my new book. 

TEACHERS--Would love to hear from you about how you're finding ways to tie this book into classroom activities.