Dogs of the Drowned City Series by Dayna Lorentz

I loved working on the KidLit Cares Sandy Relief Effort for so many reasons — mostly because we raised more than $60,000 for American Red Cross Disaster Relief. But an added bonus has been the books I’ve discovered through my own KidLit Cares auction offering, the School and Library Planning & Publicity Package. Author Dayna Lorentz was one of the generous donors who won that item, and I’ve spent the past few weeks immersed in her DOGS OF THE DROWNED CITY series with Scholastic. 

The first book in the series, THE STORM, follows a German Shepherd named Shep as his owners are forced to evacuate their home during a hurricane, leaving Shep behind.  Here’s the publisher’s summary:

When a hurricane forces his family to evacuate without him, Shep the German Shepard is confused. Where is his boy? Will he ever return? And what will Shep do in the meantime, now that the extra bowls of food — not to mention all those tasty things he found in the big cold box — are gone?

Then another dog shows up at Shep’s window and convinces him to escape. There’s food outside, and a whole empty city to explore. Shep just wants to go home . . . but the adventure of a lifetime is just beginning.

Shep is a great character with a troubled past (he used to be a fight dog and has flashbacks to those days), and kids will relate to his struggles to deal with the other dogs he encounters in a city that seems to have been abandoned by most of its human residents.

I know that this book has been a beloved read-aloud in some classrooms, but I’m surprised it’s not used in more — especially because of the natural text-to-text connections kids can make reading THE STORM along with some truly riveting nonfiction accounts of pets’ ordeals during Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Dayna says on her blog that she was inspired to write this series after a friend went down to New Orleans to rescue trapped pets after Katrina, and after she viewed a documentary called MINE, about people trying to track down lost pets after the storm.

There have been a number of great articles written on this topic, too, and that’s a natural opportunity for teachers to create a fiction/nonfiction pairing for their readers.  Here’s an excerpt from the discussion and resource guide I created for THE STORM that gives an example of how that might work:

Nonfiction Connections:  Write a persuasive letter to pet owners and emergency preparedness crews, explaining what you think should happen to pets when people need to evacuate an area due to severe weather.  Use details and examples from THE STORM as well as information from the articles “Saving Pets from Another Katrina” and “Will Your Animal Companions Be Protected in a Disaster?” and to make your points and lay out what you think is a solid plan for pets in the case of an emergency.

Saving Pets from Another Katrina,8599,1629962,00.html

 Will Your Animal Companions Be Protected in a Disaster?”

Common Core Connections:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.9 Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.1 Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

For further reading:

“Katrina survivors upset over pets left behind” from NBC News

“7 Years After Katrina, New Orleans Is Overrun by Wild Dogs” from The Atlantic

“The Dogs of Hurricane Katrina” from Modern Dog

And of course, you’ll want to visit Dayna’s website to read a lot more about THE STORM and the rest of the Dogs of the Drowned City series, along with her YA thriller series on the topic of bioterrorism, NO SAFETY IN NUMBERS.  If you’re a Vermont teacher or librarian, Dayna is a neighbor and would love to talk with you about visiting your school or library — and if you’re a far-away friend, she’s available for Skype visits.  If you’re on Twitter, you can follow Dayna here – especially if you’re a teacher or librarian, since she frequently tweets & blogs about research and writing and has giveaways, too!

Books Bring Us Together #IRA2013

 I spent the past few days at the International Reading Association Convention in San Antonio, and after some travel troubles on the way there, it was a wonderful weekend full of great book-talk with amazing teachers and librarians.

I spoke on two panels – a fun Saturday session about mysteries with fellow author April Henry, and a Sunday morning workshop on research in nonfiction, biographies, and fiction. Here’s the SlideShare link for my mysteries presentation. Here’s the link for the research in fiction presentation.

And here’s a photo of our research panel!

From left to right: Mike Wolfe from the History Channel show American Pickers and the co-author of KID PICKERS; Georgia Bragg, author of HOW THEY CROAKED; tireless educator and fantastic facilitator Donna Knoell; Steve Sheinkin, author of BOMB; me; and Andrea Davis Pinkney, author of SIT-IN: HOW FOUR FRIENDS STOOD UP BY SITTING DOWN. 

Saturday night, I attended a truly lovely dinner with the amazing Scholastic Book Clubs team. We were seated outside, and the restaurant passed out blankets when it got a little chilly. I wasn’t all that cold, but I accepted one anyway. How often do you get offered a blanket when you’re out to eat?

I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with the Book Clubs people on a number of occasions now, and you simply won’t find a group of people who love reading, books, and kids more. I love being around people who are passionate about what they do.  And they know how to laugh, too. Here I am with Liz Kokot, who works with Book Clubs…

I met Liz at last year’s Scholastic Book Clubs IRA dinner and was so happy to talk books with her again over our key lime pie.

I also got to sit next to Frances Graham, who directs national fundraising for Book Trust, an amazing organization that provides books for kids from low-income families. 

Book Trust kids get to make their own selections from Scholastic Book Club flyers each month — something I remember doing as an elementary school student. I still remember the way the magic marker would bleed through the pages when I circled the books I liked, so it makes me smile to think of so many more students having that opportunity.

The IRA Convention Center itself was a whirlwind of activity. While I failed in my attempts to track down MARTY MCGUIRE illustrator Brian Floca in the exhibit hall, I did find some Nerdy Book Club friends…including Colby Sharp…

 …and Erica Perl, who only had time for a quick wave because she was signing WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. at the Follett booth and had a line seven million miles long. Seriously. I’m lucky she looked up to pose.


Other friends attended the conference vicariously, through their new and upcoming books.  I can’t seem to stop myself from bouncing a little when I spot one of those, and inevitably, I get funny looks from the people running the publisher booths. I always point and say, “My friend wrote that book!” and then they understand.  Here’s Linda Urban’s new book, THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING, on the banner at HMH…

…and Erin Dionne’s upcoming mystery, MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING.

Erin and I share an affinity for mysteries and art, and both of our upcoming mysteries have ties to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Heist, so we occasionally geek out over news stories like this one.

And of course, I signed copies of my own books at the convention, too.  Scholastic had the new book in my Silver Jaguar Society Mysteries, HIDE AND SEEK. Quite a few teachers came by the Walker/Bloomsbury booth and told me they were sharing EYE OF THE STORM with the science teachers in their schools, which made me a very happy author. I also signed advance copies of my upcoming thriller WAKE UP MISSING (Sept. ’13) and the first copies of my August picture book, SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH.  It’s always exciting – and a little scary, too – seeing copies of those brand new books disappear into tote bags and taken back to hotel rooms.  The dwindling piles are such a visual reminder that a book that was just my story for so long belongs to readers now.

Many thanks to everyone who made IRA 2013 such a magical weekend – the organizers, the publishers who invited me to sign and worked out the details when my travel plans went astray (I’m looking at you, Emily Heddleson!), and most of all, the teachers and librarians working so hard to keep sharing stories with young readers.

Where to find me at #IRA2013

I’m at the International Reading Association Convention in San Antonio this weekend, which is a lovely, lovely place to be. I’m looking forward to lots of book talk with teacher-librarian-reader friends, and I hope if you’re here, too, you’ll try to catch up with me. Here’s where I’ll be…


10:30-11:00 Signing EYE OF THE STORM and ARCs of WAKE UP MISSING at Walker/Bloomsbury – Booth 2830

11:00-12:00 Signing HIDE AND SEEK at Scholastic – Booth 2491

1:00-2:00 Signing CAPTURE THE FLAG at Follett – Booth 1527

3:00   WORKSHOP: Mystery Reading and Writing: I’ll be presenting with fellow mystery author April Henry, along with Deanna Day, Lettie Albright, and Janelle Mathis – talking about the value of reading (and writing!) mysteries with kids. Come ready to do some sleuthing!

Evening: Scholastic Book Clubs Dinner


9:00-11:45  SYMPOSIUM: Making a Difference: Presenting Authors Whose Nonfiction Books and Biographies Inform, Engage, and Inspire Students for a Lifetime of Reading and Learning.  (But wait….I haven’t published any nonfiction books yet…how could this be?  Actually, I’m the session’s fiction representative and will be talking about how research is also essential in fiction, when it comes to authentic settings, characters, and plots. I promise to share lots of fun stories behind the stories of my books and upcoming books!)  The nonfiction folks on this panel are Georgia Bragg, Andrea Pinkney, Steve Sheinkin, and Mike Wolfe, and it’s facilitated by Donna Knoell.

12:00-1:00   Signing SEA MONTER’S FIRST DAY and my Fall ’13 release, SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH at Chronicle – Booth 1326

If you’re around any of these times, I hope you’ll stop by and say hello!

An open letter to the kids on test day…

Dear kids,

By the time you read this, your school may already be well into the ten hours of state assessments you’ll take in ELA and Math this month if you live in New York State.  People will be reading you all kinds of directions and things, giving you tips for test taking, telling you to have protein for breakfast and all that. But here’s something else you should know…

If you are taking the tests this week, be brave. Do your best, but don’t worry too much about it. And know that you are unique and full of gifts that no test can measure.  This test may tell you you’re good at some things, and you may very well be. But I’ll be that you’re even better at other things. You can probably solve problems by considering lots of different solutions and then trying one to see if it works.  When it doesn’t – when it fails – I’ll bet you go back to the drawing board to figure out why and try again.  I’ll bet you are determined and creative and a hard worker.  I’ll bet you are fair to people and do all you can to learn about ideas before you make up your mind. I’ll bet you’re kind and funny, too. And I’ll bet you show empathy for people who are hurting. Our world needs that, so very much.  All of these things will take you far, and however you do on that test, you are so much more than the number attached to it.

If you are refusing to take the tests this week, be brave. Know that you are unique and full of gifts that no test can measure.  I’m sure that you are all of those things I talked about above. And you should also know that many people admire you for standing up for what you believe in, even some people who are not allowed to tell you so.

Whether you take the test or not, whether you pass it or fail it, you are so much more than a number. And I admire you for that.

There are so many reasons to work hard, to read voraciously, and to learn at every opportunity. So many reasons that go beyond those bubbles the state asks you to fill in every year. I wrote a poem about some of them a while back…

Revolution for the Tested

by Kate Messner (Copyright 2010)



But don’t write what they tell you to.
Don’t write formulaic paragraphs
Counting sentences as you go
Put your pencil down.

Don’t write to fill in lines.
For a weary scorer earning minimum wage
Handing out points for main ideas
Supported by examples
From the carefully selected text.

Write for yourself.
Write because until you do,
You will never understand
What it is you mean to say
Or who you want to be.
Write because it makes you whole.

And write for the world.
Because your voice is important.
Write because people are hurting
Because animals are dying
Because there is injustice
That will never change if you don’t.
Write because it matters.

And know this.
They’ll tell you it won’t make a difference,
Not to trouble over grownup things,
Just fill in the lines
And leave it at that.
Tell them you know the truth.
That writing is powerful.
Just one voice on the page
Speaks loudly.
And not only can a chorus of those united change the world.
It is the only thing that ever has.


But don’t read what they tell you to.
Don’t read excerpts, half-poems,
Carefully selected for lexile content,
Or articles written for the sole purpose
Of testing your comprehension.

Don’t read for trinkets,
For pencils or fast food coupons.
Don’t even read for M&M’s.
And don’t read for points.

Read for yourself.
Read because it will show you who you are,
Who you want to be some day,
And who you need to understand.
Read because it will open doors
To college and opportunity, yes,
And better places still…
Doors to barns where pigs and spiders speak,
To lands where anything is possible.
To Hogwarts and Teribithia,
To Narnia and to Hope.

Read for the world.
Read to solve its problems.
Read to separate reality from ranting,
Possibility from false promise.
And leaders from snake oil peddlers.
Read so you can tell the difference.
Because an educated person is so much harder
To enslave.

And know this.
They’ll say they want what’s best for you,
That data doesn’t lie.
Tell them you know the truth.
Ideas can’t be trapped in tiny bubbles.
It’s not about points
On a chart or a test or points anywhere.
And it never will be.

Copyright 2010 ~ Kate Messner

I shared this poem as part of my 2011 NCTE/ALAN presentations, and I’ve had many teachers write to ask if it’s okay to share with students and colleagues in the classroom. The answer is absolutely yes.  Share away, and please feel free to link to this page.

But please do not copy & paste without permission. The best way to share a copyright protected poem (or story, or article) with blog readers is to share a short quote from the piece and then link to the original post. Thanks!

A Magical Day in Maine

I traveled to Maine for the Maine State Libraries Reading Round Up this week.  One thing that made the trip special was the lovely bed & breakfast where I stayed, Maple Hill Farms. When I checked in, I decided to take a walk and asked the innkeeper about the animals in the farm yard.

“Is it okay if I say hi to the llamas? Are they friendly?”

“Oh, very much so!” he assured me. “They love people. Go right up to the fence, and they’ll come running over to say hello. They’ll want to sniff you, and they usually give kisses, too.”

So I went up to the fence and talked with the llamas a little. I said hello. I asked how their day had been going. They did not come running over to meet and greet and sniff and kiss me. They did this:


I am still not sure if the llamas simply didn’t like me, or if this was a joke the innkeeper plays and he likes to look out the window and laugh at people being snubbed by the llamas.

The warmth of the teachers and librarians at the conference more than made up for the lack of llama love, though.  The Reading Round Up  is a great event with hundreds of public and school librarians and teachers — book people, through and through. This was the room where I gave my keynote talk…


I started my speech with a story that only true book people could understand.  We have a LOT of bookshelves at our house, but somehow, they are always overflowing, so books are also stacked on all of our living room tables, the fireplace, and often the floor.  From time to time, I have to honor my husband’s pleas to clear out a few of them, so I weed out a bag of titles for the library book sale.  The trouble is…I also love to purchase books at the library sale, and the week before the Maine conference, I found one of those Best American Poetry of 2001 books for fifty cents. (That is less than a penny a poem. How do you say no to that?) I bought the book and brought it with me to read before bed.

When I opened it and started reading, I recognized one of the poems, and my face lit up the way it does when I see a beloved old friend at the store. “Oh, it’s you!  “Snow Day” by Billy Collins…how have you been?”  I turned a few more pages and thought, “Wow! I know this poem, too!  And this one! And this one…and…”   Then I closed the book, took a closer look, and found “Messner” written on the inside cover.  I bought back my own donated book from the library sale.

Stop laughing… I swear it called out to me from the shelf. It must have missed me.

The book people in the Reading Round Up audience understood perfectly, of course, and I loved talking books with everyone after my talk. Here I am with some members of the conference committee…


…and with some members of the Maine Student Book Award Committee.


My Scholastic mystery CAPTURE THE FLAG is  one of their titles for kids to vote on next year in the 2013-14 Maine Student Book Awards. My books have been on a number of these state lists, but it’s not often that I get to meet the people who choose the books to say thank you, so this was a treat.

Many thanks, Maine teachers and librarians, for making me a part of your Reading Round Up this year! I loved spending the day with you, and your readers are so very lucky to have you.

Jaguar Stones Series by J and P Voelkel

I’ve spent the past few weeks immersed in the world of the Maya, thanks to authors J and P Voelkel, who won my School & Library Planning and Publicity Package for the KidLitCares auction to raise money for Superstorm Sandy relief.  And what a gift it’s been to visit that world!

MIDDLEWORLD launches the series- here’s the official book description from the publisher.

Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is looking forward to a family vacation. But his parents, both archaeologists and Maya experts, announce a change in plan. They must leave immediately for a dig in the tiny Central American country of San Xavier. Max will go to summer camp. Max is furious. When he’s mysteriously summoned to San Xavier, he thinks they’ve had a change of heart.

Upon his arrival, Max’s wild adventure in the tropical rainforests of San Xavier begins. During his journey, he will unlock ancient secrets and meet strangers who are connected to him in ways he could never have imagined. For fate has delivered a challenge of epic proportions to this pampered teenager. Can Max rescue his parents from the Maya Underworld and save the world from the Lords of Death, who now control the power of the Jaguar Stones in their villainous hands? The scene is set for a roller-coaster ride of suspense and terror, as the good guys and the bad guys face off against a background of haunted temples, zombie armies, and even human sacrifice!

The truth is…they had me at “wild adventure” and “ancient secrets” but this book offers so much more than that. Kids who haven’t already met Max will love his jaunty attitude and the messes he gets himself into.  They’ll love the danger (on just about every page!) and the mystery of the rainforest and shady figures who inhabit it.

Their teachers and librarians will love the rich curriculum connections this book provides.  Rainforest ecosystems? Check. Ancient cultures and myths? Check.  If ever there were a title that made it easy to teach the Common Core Standards for Grades 4-8, it’s this one. As part of the Voelkels’ KidLitCares package, I put together a discussion and resource guide for using MIDDLEWORLD in the classroom.  Here’s an example of the CCS-aligned activities:

Historical Research: Read the online PBS feature article about Friar Diego de Landa, one of the real-life historical figures mentioned in MIDDLEWORLD:

PBS – When Worlds Collide: The Untold Story of the Americas after Columbus –

 In Chapter 2 of MIDDLEWORLD, Oscar tells Max, “Diego de Landa was the curse of the Maya. He tortured us, he burned our books, he told the world we were savages.”  Based on the PBS article, is this a fair characterization of Landa? Why or why not?  Use details from the PBS feature to support your opinion.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.9 Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.

 MIDDLEWORLD was featured on the Today Show a while back when it was selected for Al Roker’s Book Club. You can see that video here.
 And you won’t want to miss the Voelkels’ website, where there are more resources and links and freebies for teachers than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Really. Go check it out.