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Wednesday, August 8, 2018


Here's a special chance to see how one of the illustrations for HUSH UP AND HIBERNATE! brought this story to life.

When you choose "play", you'll go right back to the beginning when the text inspired the idea for the illustration. You'll see the sketches that created the scene. Next, you'll see the colors begin to be added. The details follow. 

Notice what comes first, next, and so on.
When you compare the illustration to the finished spread in the book, look at one more thing. See how the artist Howard McWilliam planned, right from the start, for the text to become part of the scene. 

And here's the text to read as you enjoy the illustration come to life. 

Mama Bear grunts, "I guess we can eat 
a little longer before we sleep
away the winter." Side-by-side, they
munch chokecherries until a flock of geese flies past.

Mama Bear slowly lifts her big head and listens to their honking. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


HUSH UP and HIBERNATE! is a fun read aloud--read alone bedtime story. But the fun doesn't have to stop there. 

These activities can stretch the fun and sneak in a little creative thinking and discovery-learning.


Please, Mama!  

What if Baby Bear wanted Mama Bear to tell a story about an adventure she had as a cub, while he fell asleep? Make up the story Mama Bear told. 

Sneaky Baby Bear

Imagine Baby Bear didn't hibernate? What if Baby Bear sneaked out of the den and stayed awake all winter long? Make a list of ten things that happened in order--from what happened first to last. 

Sweet Dreams!

What if Baby Bear dreamed while hibernating? Tell what his dream was about?


Baby Bear counted groups of animals to fall asleep.

What forest animals is Baby Bear counting when he sees these groups:
                [Answers below]
Gaggle of _____________
Pack of _______________
Romp of_______________
Prickle of _____________
Gang of ______________
Scurry of _____________
Leash of ______________
Murder of _____________
Parliament of __________
Knot of _______________

Answers: Geese, Wolves, Otters, Porcupines, Elk, Squirrels, Foxes, Crows, Owls, Toads


How To Guide

Since Baby Bear doesn't want to hibernate, Mama Bear could get HOW TO SURVIVE THE WINTER advice from other animals. What would each of these animals tell her? 

[Click the link to discover more.] 

Caribou: "For me, it's all about finding food to eat after it snows. So I always do this when winter is coming."

Arctic Fox: "I can't risk being spotted by prey I hunt during the winter. So when winter is coming I have to make this change."

Chipmunk: "You can do what I do, no problem. But you have to have been working on this all summer and fall."


To help Baby Bear go to sleep, Mama Bear reads these bedtime stories.

Bear Snores by Karma Wilson (Little Simon, 2005)

Bear's cave fills with animal friends while he sleeps.

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015) Fun romp that tells what happens when Bear wakes up and smells a sandwich.

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney-Hyperion, 2015)
When a bear's egg breakfast, turns into raising geese and teaching them how to migrate--even when it means traveling south with them for the winter.

And, of course, she reads...

Hush Up and Hibernate!


Mama Bear needs to prove to Baby Bear that, during the winter, food will be hard to eat--even if it's around. 

To do that, put a raisin into each section of an ice cube tray. Fill the tray with water and freeze.

Next, dump the raisin ice cubes onto a plastic plate. Add another batch of ice cubes with nothing inside.

Then it's Baby Bear's task to try and eat the raisins without eating any ice. CAN YOU FIGURE OUT how Baby Bear can get the raisins? 

Think of three different things Baby Bear could try to get the raisins. Decide which one has the best chance of working. 

Finally, work with an adult partner to test your idea. Or check with an adult partner to be sure what you want to try is safe for you to do. Then time how long it takes to get the raisins out of the ice cubes. And think whether what you did is likely to be possile for Baby Bear to do.  

So what happens to Baby Bear? How does the story end? 


What happens to real baby bears when winter is on its way and it's time to hibernate?

There's only one way to find out. Click here to order a copy and READ IT!

Sunday, June 10, 2018


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, April 24, 2018


Astronaut George "Pinky" Nelson shared with me what it was like to view earth from the Space Shuttle 350 miles above the earth's surface. And one thing really struck me. He said when we draw a circle to make a picture of the earth we should take a close look. He said people usually draw a second big circle around the first to show earth's atmosphere--the air we need to live. But from space it's clear that our earth's atmosphere is as thin as the line of the circle we drew to show the earth. Once we realize that, it's clear car fumes, factory smoke, forest fires--anything we add to air--can have a BIG impact on our home planet.

So what can you do to help? Here are some ideas for recycling that can stop pollution both from factories making new things and from trash being thrown away. Besides, you're about to discover RECYCLING IS FUN!

Turn Old Newspapers into A Birdhouse

Just follow these steps and birds will soon be moving in. First, blow up a balloon and tie the neck. In a plastic bowl (or a milk jug with the top half cut off) mix a half cup white glue with a half cup of water.

Use scissors to cut strips of newspaper about 2 inches wide. Start with about 50 strips.

Check with an adult to see where it's okay for you to work because the next step is going to be messy. And definitely wear old clothes. Then, one-by-one dip strips of newspaper into the glue, wipe off any excess by squeezing between your fingers, and press the strip smoothly onto the balloon. You'll need to cover all of the balloon, including the neck so you may need to take time out to wash up and cut more paper strips. Let the balloon dry completely. Then repeat. Do this until you've built up four layers covering the balloon.

Now, find out what small birds commonly live in birdhouses in your area. Check on-line or in bird books to find out what diameter hole you'll need to have in your birdhouse for your local guests to move in. Have your adult partner use a utility knife to cut a door that's just the right diameter about 3 to 4 inches above the bottom. That will pop the balloon. So remove the balloon pieces from the inside. Then have your adult partner do one more thing.

Working outdoors, have your adult partner spray a coating of water-based enamel inside the house. (This paint is available at home supply stores). This will help make the house waterproof. Dr. Mimi Shepherd, an avian veterinarian, reports water-based enamel is safe for birds once it's been allowed to dry for several days).

Also have your partner use pointed scissors to drill three drainage holes in the round bottom of the birdhouse. And they'll need to attach a toggle bolt to the pointed end and twist on a wire loop to hang the birdhouse.

Finally, back indoors you can use a paintbrush and acrylic paint to decorate the outside of the birdhouse. Top that with a coat of varnish to make the house waterproof.

This is my drawing from the very first published book EXPLORING WINTER 
Make A Bottle Diner For Birds

Invite the birds to your house for dinner. To make this bird feeder, you'll need a two liter soft drink bottle with a screw on cap, ball point pen, scissors, string, three wire garbage bag ties (or pipe cleaners), and an aluminum pie plate.

Cut off the bottom of the bottle. Set it on the middle of the pie pan and draw around it.

Cut four large scallops along the cut off edge of the bottle. This will allow a flow of bird seed.

Poke holes in the pan on two opposite sides of the circle you drew.

Poke holes in two opposite sides of the bottle.

Attach the bottle to the pan with the ties. Twist the third tie to each of the other two ties on the bottom of the pan. This will securely anchor the bottle to the pan.

Cut off a piece of string 18 to 36 inches long. Poke two holes in the neck of the bottle. Loop the string through the holes and tie the ends in a knot. That will form a loop you can use to hang the bird feeder.
Pour seed into the bottle through the bottle mouth until the feeder is about half full. Put the cap on the bottle.

Once your bottle bird feeder is ready, ask an adult to hang it in a tree or somewhere you can easily watch from a window. You'll also need your adult partner to help you add seed to the bottle feeder as needed. Once you begin to feed the birds, they will depend on you to keep the food coming. If the weather gets cold and snowy in the winter where you live, your bird feeder may be the best diner in the area.

As you watch your bird feeder, see if you can discover the answers to these questions:

  • What time of day do the birds most often come to eat?
  • Do the birds come more or less often if the weather is stormy?
  • Do the birds usually feed one at a time or in groups?
  • Which birds chase others away? (You may need to search on-line or in bird books to identify the birds that come to your feeder.)

Shoot Water Blasters
You can turn empty plastic bottles with screw-on caps, such as water or soft drink bottles, into a kind of squirt gun--a water blaster.

First, take the cap off the bottle. Have an adult partner help you put a hole in the center of this cap. Using an oven mitt, they'll need to hold the tip of a slim steel nail (a fourpenny nail) in a candle flame for about ten seconds. Then, working over a stack of old magazines, they'll need to immediately press the hot nail tip straight down on the center of the inside of the cap. That will make a small hole in the cap.

Then you can fill the bottle with water and screw on the cap to create your Water Blaster. Take your Water Blaster outdoors and squeeze to fire. Refill as needed. Build up your blasting skills by aiming at plastic cups set on something that is about waist high.

  • How far away can you be and still strike your target? 
  • Does the amount of water in the Water Blaster make a difference to its blast power? 

From The Kids' Earth Handbook by Sandra Markle (Atheneum, 1991)
Play A Game of Jug Ball

This game will turn empty milk jugs into a great game. Collect six milk jugs and rinse them out. Use scissors to cut the body of the jug, transforming it into a scoop (like the one in the picture). Next create a ball. Use an old dishwashing sponge. Dampen it so it's bendable. Bend it in half and anchor this shape with several recycled rubber bands.

Now, to play jug ball, stand in a circle. Stand close together. Then take three steps back. Toss the sponge ball from player to player. Start by going around the cirlce. Then have the player doing the tossing call the name of the player who must catch the ball. Any player who fails to catch the ball collects one letter of the word "Oops." When all four letters are collected by the same person, he or she must drop out of the game. The winner is the person remaining when everyone else has spelled "Oops."

Just remember, for the earth's sake, 
conserve, recycle, and use it up!

Sunday, February 25, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then roll on to the next R.


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

Then write the FACT in one fun sentence.

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

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

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

and not get a mouthful of water.

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

And on to the next R.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you guess?!