Summer Reading Road Trip

Summer Reading Road Trip
I'm shortly heading out to schools and visiting more via Skype to celebrate my Scholastic WHAT IF YOU HAD?! Series! Click on this photo to find out about my school visits on SANDRA MARKLE SPEAKS!

Sunday, August 6, 2017


I've written three books about penguins and each book has been about a different kind of penguin.

(Millbrook/Lerner, 2017) is about African penguins. 

A MOTHER'S JOURNEY (Charlesbridge, 2005) is about Emperor penguins.

PENGUINS: GROWING UP WILD (Currently Available on Amazon Kindle) is about Adelie penguins.

I love penguins because I had the wonderful opportunity twice to live with 160,000+ Adelies in Antarctica during the summer while they raised their chicks, watch Emperors from an icebreaker while they were riding on icebergs (off duty from wintertime egg hatching) and see even more kinds of penguins (Fairy Blue and Yellow-eyed) in New Zealand. 

So, as I celebrate my newest penguin book, I wanted to share some activities for children to enjoy learning about penguins.


First, use the link to download a printable picture of an African penguin--two for each child.  

The picture is labelled telling children how to correctly color an African penguin with one exception. 
Check out this real photo of an African penguin on the cover of THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE. African penguins always have that pinkish area by their eyes. Be sure children color the white areas too.

Next, supply children with paper cups of water and eyedroppers. Have them drip five drops of water on the uncolored African penguin. Then have them drip five drops on the colored African penguin. Ask, "What difference do you see?"

The children will observe the water soaks into the uncolored penguin and beads up on the colored on. African penguins, like all penguins, have a special gland that lets them spread an oily coat over their feathers. Like the wax, that lets their feather shed water. And penguin feathers are incredibly small (I know because I've held some in my hand). But the tiny feathers tuck tightly over each other, like roof shingles, to form a thick, watertight coat. In fact, penguins have more feathers than most birds--as many as 100 feather per square inch.

What looks pink above the
penguin’s eyes is a special
body part that keeps it
from overheating. As the
penguin’s body warms
up, blood flow increases
to that area. The lack of
feathers over that area
lets heat radiate away as
the blood flows through it.

That cools the penguin.

Emperor Dad On Duty

A MOTHER'S JOURNEY shares the less familiar story of what female emperors do while the dad's hunker down incubating their egg through Antarctica's freezing cold winter.  I know what winter in Antarctica is like. I experienced it firsthand at McMurdo Station.
Winds could be strong enough to lean into. Snow like tiny ice-glitter would fill the air. And temperatures averaged -50F to -70F (painfully cold to breathe) and dropped as low as -129F. It's an impressive cold. 

So the females get credit for traveling through this--in the dark--to reach open water and to feed, stay strong, and return just in time to feed their newly hatched chick. And the males get credit for staying the winter with the egg tucked into their brood patch (to share body warmth) and hold the egg on top of their feet to keep it off the cold ice and snow--even as they shift around with the huddle of other males. This activity will let kids get the idea.

Use any kind of baggie--even a self-sealing plastic bag full of pennies or anything to give it some weight. This is "the emperor's egg". Ideally, each child needs an egg. First, have the children the egg on top of their shoes and practice waddling to move slowly without losing their egg. 

After a little practice, children are ready to be in a large huddle with their eggs on their feet. Tell them to pack as close together as they can. Then challenge them that when you call "MOVE" everyone at the outside of the huddle shifts one person to the inside. Repeat several times. 

It's fine for anyone who drops their eggs to return it to their feet. But point out in real life that puts the chick developing inside at risk of not surviving to hatch. 

And check out these sites for lots more penguin discovery-fun activities.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Okay, it's summer! So here are ten things to enjoy while it's hot, sunny and being outdoors is fun....

1.  Make something out of mud. Even better do it after it's rained. What is that mud like? How is different from dry dirt? Is there one way it's still the same? 

And then read Mud by Mary Lyn Ray with illustrations by Lauren Stringer.

2. Play flashlight tag in the dark. 

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

And then Read Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine and illustrations by Fred Koehler.

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

And read The Emperor's Kit by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Ed Young

5. Make a FOOT painting. Sure, you've probably done fingerprinting. But have you ever painted with your feet? It will really let you STEP UP as an artist. Try mixing your own paints first. Here's some how-to sites to help you. 


And read What If You Had Animal Feet?! by ME Sandra Markle with illustrations by Howard McWilliam.

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

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

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

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

And read Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations by Jacqueline Mitton

Hope you have fun with these activities. And to share an adventure that happened one summer, Read Gasparilla's Gold by ME Sandra Markle :-)! Of course, any time you read one of my books it's like I'm right there sharing it with you.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017


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


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.


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


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. 

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."


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.