Sandra L(ee) Markle (1946-)
Sandra L. Markle, who once worked as a science teacher, now devotes much of her time creating science books for children. With books on animals, science experiments, computers, exploration, geology, and other specific topics to her credit, she has also become a sought-after science education consultant. "Few writers have quite the handle Markle does on how kids think about science," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic in a review of Icky Squishy Science.
Critics have identified more than one reason for Markle's success as a science writer for children. First, Markle carefully pairs science with fiction. The Programmer's Guide to the Galaxy, which frames instruction about computer BASIC programming within an adventure story, was lauded by R. Scott Grabinger in Voice of Youth Advocates as "fun," "instructional," and an "excellent book for beginning and intermediate BASIC programmers." Second, Markle writes about science in a lucid, straightforward manner. Reviewing Digging Deeper: Investigations into Rocks, Shocks, Quakes, and Other Earthy Matters, which educates children about geography while showing them how to construct volcanoes and conduct other projects, Beth Ames Herbert commented in Booklist: "Markle's lighthanded touch makes even technical jargon unintimidating." A Rainy Day explains such question-prompting things as how a cloud forms and why umbrellas are shaped the way they are. Janice Del Negro remarked in Booklist that A Rainy Day uses "a picture book format with strong visual narrative." Finally, in books like Icky Squishy Science and Creepy, Spooky Science, Markle encourages children to learn about science as they do something they love: get their hands dirty.
Markle's love of science is infectious, a fact that also makes her books so effective. She once told SATA, "I can't believe the opportunities writing provides me! . . . I was able to travel to the South Pole—something I'd always dreamed of doing—and was transported by helicopter to spend a few hours as the only human in the midst of a penguin rookery. I've also spent a few days behind the scenes with the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, been up in the Good Year Blimp, and lots more. Each new project brings new adventures. I always think of myself as the eyes and ears and fingers of all the young readers that will eventually be sharing my experiences through my books and magazine articles."
Many of Markle's books are published in series or thematically related groups. The "Outside and inside" books provide children with a scientific understanding of some of their favorite plants and creatures. Outside and inside Sharks, for example, explains how a shark's body works to make it a good hunter. Outside and inside Snakes, which, according to Karey Wehner in School Library Journal, is a "remarkably perceptive introduction to the ever-fascinating slitherer," discusses the anatomy, bodily functions, habits, and life cycle of the snake. "Succinctly written," Wehner explained in School Library Journal, Outside and inside Spiders "offers more detail on body functions than is currently available in other books." Booklist critic Chris Sherman described Outside and inside Birds as an "introduction to avian anatomy" that "will fascinate browsers," while a Kirkus Reviews critic asserted that young readers will "be captivated by her clear and detailed discussion" of everything rodent in Outside and inside Rats and Mice. Citing Outside and inside Kangaroos for particular praise, an Appraisal contributor noted that this book, like others in the series, "is full of intriguing science details and questions which encourage the reader to predict the reasons for adaptations and habits."
One of the "Outside and inside" books takes a look at a familiar creature: the healthy human child. Outside and inside You includes questions, suggestions, answers, and comparisons illustrated with close-up photos, X-rays, and computer-generated images that provide young readers with the opportunity to understand their bodies, right down to the skin, muscles, bones, and major organs. Stephanie Zvirin of Booklist described Markle's text as "accessible," commenting that the author's "clear explanations are rooted in children's everyday experience." The "Outside and inside" books, with color photos, also include glossaries, indexes, and pronunciation guides.
Another group of books by Markle that focuses on animals is the "Growing up Wild" series, which started with 2000's Growing up Wild: Bears. In this series designed for readers in grades two to four, full-color photographs accompany a clearly written text that describes the life of several species. In Growing up Wild: Bears, readers meet a day-old black bear cub, two young polar bears, and young grizzlies fishing for salmon. The volume on wolves describes the challenges a young wolf must overcome to reach its first birthday and also explains life in a wolf pack, where play and sleep are balanced with hunting and learning to identify predators. Markle presents Growing up Wild: Wolves through the eyes of the young animals, "an appealing angle that makes use of the experiences of young readers," according to a Horn Book contributor. Praising the same volume in Kirkus Reviews, a critic noted that Markle's selection of facts is "perfectly designed to interest young readers," going on to remark that the author adds "intimate details" aimed to "astonish and intrigue" young imaginations.
In Growing up Wild: Penguins, as in Growing up Wild: Wolves, the author does not hide the fact that life in the wild is harsh and survival is not guaranteed, a fact that Horn Book contributor Danielle J. Ford claimed made the books noteworthy. Ford found "an element of tension" runs through Growing up Wild: Penguins due to the fact that the Adelie penguin chicks are constantly hunted by shore birds. Booklist contributor Kay Weisman commended Markle for her "clearly written, succinct text" and her "especially detailed picture of the [penguin's] infancy period."
Markle's "Pioneering" books allow children to witness the scientific exploration of far away worlds and encourage them to use their own scientific skills. In Pioneering Frozen Worlds: Polar Region Exploration, Markle follows scientists working in the North and South Poles and explains how they live and work. She describes the experiments the scientists are conducting and includes notes and suggestions for minor experiments that can help children better understand the rugged climate. Pioneering Space tells about space travel, space equipment, and future space colonization. It provides instructions for two experiments (one on rocket power and another on hydroponics systems). "This timely, attractively illustrated treatment of space exploration will excite young readers," Margaret M. Hagel commented in School Library Journal.
The "Season of Science" series, which Markle illustrated herself with line drawings, explains seasonal changes as well as traditional seasonal activities. The books provide a variety of lessons, science experiments, crafts, and games for children. A number of historical facts, mythical stories, riddles, and jokes are also included. Exploring Spring, for example, shows readers how to identify flowers and teaches them about egg development. Gayle Berge explained in School Library Journal that Exploring Summer could "provide an entire summer of . . . growing in scientific knowledge." "The number of winter tidbits assembled here is amazing," School Library Journal contributor Jeffrey A. French wrote in a review of Exploring Winter. These seasonal books are designed to make learning fun, and Markle's style reflects this. As Hazel Rochman pointed out in a review of Exploring Autumn for Booklist, "Markle isn't afraid to be lyrical . . . or silly."
In 1989, an oil tanker named the Exxon Valdez crashed near Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the water and creating an ecological disaster for the region's wildlife. In After the Spill: The Exxon Valdez Disaster, Then and Now, Markle returns readers to the scene of the accident ten years later and studies the aftereffects. Dividing the book into sections with titles such as "What Happened to the Animals?" and "Did the Oil Spill Affect People Too?," she explains how local birds, fish, and otters fared, and also explains the economic impact to the area and lists new regulations that have been implemented to prevent such a catastrophe from occurring again. An Appraisal reviewer commended the "wealth of practical experience" Markle brings to her task and praised the author for being able "to anticipate the questions and interests of her readers." Citing its "child-friendly format, and attractive photos," School Library Journal reviewer Dawn Amsberry commended the "clear, journalistic style" of After the Spill, while Deborah Stevenson maintained in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that the photo-filled volume will give readers an enhanced "understanding of the different kinds of impact such an event can have."
Although most of Markle's books are nonfiction, she is also the author of an award-winning novel, The Fledglings. In this story, Kate's mother is killed by a drunk driver, leaving the fourteen-year-old protagonist an orphan. She is faced with the prospect of living with the family of her disagreeable uncle and aunt when she learns that her paternal grandfather is still alive. Although this grandfather has refused to care for her, Kate runs away to Cherokee, North Carolina, to find him. At first, her grandfather does not welcome her. Gradually, however, Kate earns his trust and comes to learn about her Cherokee heritage and life in the forest. In addition, Kate helps fight illegal poaching and cares for a fledgling eagle, prompting a Publishers Weekly reviewer to praise her "pluck and resourcefulness in daunting surroundings," finding Markle's story "fun to read."
Markle has not kept her talents reserved for the realm of text. She worked on television programs for many years and has since moved into cyberspace through an online science curriculum she has developed. "I've been communicating via the Internet and my special project called Online Expeditions," she once told SATA. "The Internet is perfect for me because now I'm able to share what's happening in real time—including digitized pictures—even from places as remote as an icebreaker in the middle of the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Markle, Sandra L., After the Spill: The Exxon Valdez Disaster, Then and Now, Walker (New York, NY), 1999.
American Scientist, November-December, 1997, Cynthia Harris, review of Icky, Squishy Science, p. 557.
Appraisal, spring-summer-fall, 2000, review of After the Spill: The Exxon Valdez Disaster, Then and Now, pp. 68-69, and Outside and inside Kangaroos, pp. 69-70.
Booklist, December 15, 1987, Beth Ames Herbert, review of Digging Deeper: Investigations into Rocks, Shocks, Quakes, and Other Earthy Matters, pp. 710-711; July, 1990, p. 2091; March 15, 1991, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Outside and inside You, p. 1494; November 1, 1991, Hazel Rochman, review of Exploring Autumn, p. 514; January 1, 1992, p. 827; March 1, 1993, Janice Del Negro, review of A Rainy Day, p. 1233; November 1, 1994, Chris Sherman, review of Outside and inside Birds, p. 504; May 1, 1996, p. 1501; October 1, 1997, Sally Estes, review of Outside and inside Bats, p. 320; March 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Super Cool Science, p. 1238; June 1, 1998, Kathleen Squires, review of Gone Forever!, p. 1722; December 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of Outside and inside Alligators, p. 681; August, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of After the Spill, p. 2054; January 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Outside and inside Kangaroos, p. 914; May 15, 2000, Ellen Mandel, review of Growing up Wild: Bears, p. 1746; December 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Outside and inside Dinosaurs, p. 702; April 1, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Growing up Wild: Wolves, p. 1462; September 15, 2001, Shelle Townsend-Hudson, review of Outside and inside Rats and Mice, p. 220; December 15, 2001, Kay Weisman, review of Growing up Wild: Penguins, p. 728; September 15, 2003, Terry Glover, review of Outside and inside Giant Squids, p. 233; October 1, 2003, Lauren Peterson, review of Outside and inside Big Cats, p. 314.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1992, pp. 18-19; February, 1996, p. 196; April, 1998, Deborah Stevenson, review of Super Cool Science, p. 288; July, 1999, Deborah Stevenson, review of After the Spill, pp. 395-396.
Horn Book, March-April, 1991, pp. 216-217; January-February, 1998, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Outside and inside Bats, p. 93; November, 1999, Marilyn Bousquin, review of Outside and inside Kangaroos, p. 759; September, 2000, review of Outside and inside Dinosaurs, p. 597; March, 2001, review of Growing up Wild: Wolves, p. 231; September, 2001, review of Outside and inside Rats and Mice, p. 612; May-June, 2002, Danielle J. Ford, review of Growing up Wild: Penguins, p. 347; July-August, 2003, Danielle J. Ford, review of Outside and inside Big Cats, p. 482.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1987, p. 555; July 1, 1989, p. 994; August 15, 1992, p. 1064; March 15, 1994, review of Outside and inside Spiders, p. 399; January 15, 1996, p. 136; April 18, 1996, review of Icky Squishy Science, p. 230; January, 1998, review of Gone Forever!, p. 115; February 15, 2001, review of Growing up Wild: Wolves, p. 262; August 1, 2001, review of Outside and inside Rats and Mice, p. 1128; November 15, 2001, review of Growing up Wild: Penguins, p. 1613; June 1, 2003, review of Outside and inside Big Cats, p. 807.
Publishers Weekly, June 8, 1992, review of The Fledglings, p. 64; March 8, 1993, p. 77.
Reading Teacher, May, 2002, review of Outside and inside Dinosaurs, p. 782.
School Library Journal, November, 1984, Jeffrey A. French, review of Exploring Winter, p. 126; April, 1987, Gayle Berge, review of Exploring Summer, p. 100; January, 1988, p. 82; October, 1988, p. 157; February, 1993, Margaret M. Hagel, review of Pioneering Space, p. 101; June, 1994, Karey Wehner, review of Outside and inside Spiders, p. 141; June, 1995, Karey Wehner, review of Outside and inside Snakes, p. 122; March, 1996, Melissa Hudak, review of Outside and inside Sharks, p. 212; May, 1996, p. 124; October, 1996, p. 136; April, 1997, Karey Wehner, review of Creepy, Crawly Baby Bugs, p. 128; July, 1997, Kathryn Kosiorek, review of Science Surprises, p. 85; September, 1997, Cynthia M. Sturgis, review of Super Science Secrets, p. 206; November, 1997, Margaret Bush, review of Outside and inside Bats, pp. 130, 132; March, 1998, Jody McCoy, review of Discovering Graph Secrets, p. 236; April, 1998, John Peters, review of Super Cool Science, p. 120; May, 1998, Marilyn Payne Phillips, review of Gone Forever!, p. 134; November, 1998, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of Outside and inside Alligators, pp. 107-108; September, 1999, Dawn Amsberry, review of After the Spill, p. 238; November, 1999, Patricia Manning, review of Down, down, down in the Ocean, p. 146; December, 1999, Sally Bates Goodroe, review of Outside and inside Kangaroos, pp. 154-155; May, 2000, Randi Hacker, review of Growing up Wild: Bears, p. 163; November, 2000, Patricia Manning, review of Outside and inside Dinosaurs, p. 173; September, 2001, Susan Scheps, review of Growing up Wild: Wolves, p. 218; November, 2001, Cynthia M. Sturgis, review of Outside and inside Rats and Mice, p. 147; March, 2002, Margaret Bush, review of Growing up Wild: Penguins, p. 218; August, 2003, Patricia Manning, review of Outside and inside Big Cats, p. 182; December, 2003, Doris Losey, review of Outside and inside Giant Squids, p. 172.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1985, R. Scott Grabinger, review of The Programmer's Guide to the Galaxy, p. 66; December, 1993, p. 324.*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalSandra L(ee) Markle (1946-) Biography - Career, Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Member, Writings, Work in Progress