Fergus and Zeke, a new series for beginning readers!

FERGUS AND ZEKE, the first book in my new easy reader series with Candlewick is out today!

I’m excited about some great news we’ve already gotten about this book. It’s a Junior Library Guild selection. There’s a lovely review from Kirkus that ends with “Here’s to more adventures for Fergus and Zeke!”

The Wall Street Journal just featured FERGUS AND ZEKE in a roundup of the best new children’s books:

“A dapper fellow with lavender fur, Fergus loves following the rules of Miss Maxwell’s class. ‘When the students solved math problems, Fergus solved them, too,’ we read; ‘he always kept his eyes on his own work.’ But when teacher and children prepare to visit the natural-history museum without him, Fergus embraces his inner outlaw and stows away in a backpack. He soon falls in with Zeke, a gray mouse of insouciant temperament who scoffs at the idea of following ‘people rules.’ Cheery illustrations by Heather Ross add zip to this educational excursion for 5- to 8-year-olds.”

And Publishers Weekly had this to say:

“In a high-spirited series opener set over four chapters, Messner (the Ranger in Time books) lets readers live out their Night at the Museum fantasies through Fergus and Zeke’s explorations, as they clamber over lion and dinosaur exhibits and generally disregard any “no touching” rules (“Those are people rules!” crows Zeke). Ross’s (Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch) energetic full-color cartoons run wild with the museum-as-playground theme, and Zeke’s decision to join Fergus in the classroom neatly sets up their next adventure.”


But what those reviews don’t tell you is the story behind this story…and how the seed for this book was planted years ago at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival.

One of my favorite things about festivals is the way young readers approach an author’s table. “Do you have any mysteries?” they’ll say, or “Have you written any books about dogs? Because I really love dogs.” Five or six years ago, a little girl walked up to my table, looked at me with big eyes, and said, “I just learned to read! Do you have a book I can read all by myself?” I didn’t at the time, and I felt bad about that…like I’d let her down.  When I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about that reader, so I went to my library and signed out a stack of books – the best stories I could find, published with very new readers in mind. I read piles and piles of them and started experimenting. After a towering heap of failures, I wrote FERGUS AND ZEKE.

Fergus is a classroom mouse who’s enthusiastic about everything from music class to story hour. How could he possibly stay behind when it’s time for the big field trip to the natural history museum?  So Fergus stows away on his class trip to the natural history museum, has some adventures and misadventures among the butterflies, lions, and dinosaur bones, and ultimately brings home a friend.

I love research, so it’s probably no surprise that my first step in writing FERGUS AND ZEKE was planning a field trip for myself. I’d been to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but I’d never imagined it from the point of view of a mouse. So with my notebook and my camera, I set off to spend a day at the museum, imagining what it would all look like from a small rodent’s perspective.

When I arrived, the coat check room was bustling – a mouse would have to be careful not to be stepped on there. I’ve always been in awe of the museum’s enormous blue whale model. Imagine how much more colossal it would seem if you were only a few inches tall! It was so much fun to see how our amazing series illustrator Heather Ross created these scenes…

Writing about Fergus and Zeke’s adventures behind the scenes at NMAH allowed me to live vicariously. Who hasn’t always wanted to get inside those glass cases in the mammal hall to play with the elephants or pet the lions?

And wouldn’t it be fun to climb on those dinosaur skeletons?

As a kid, I found that I learned best when I was doing something out of my seat. As a teacher, I always connected with fidgety students who couldn’t quite sit still during a lecture. I did my best to get us all up out of our seats – and out of the building – as often as possible. Those are the kinds of adventures that Fergus and Zeke have, not just in this first installment, but throughout the series. (They’ll be experimenting at the school science fair in book two!)

I’m so excited to share Fergus & Zeke’s adventures with readers – kids who love school, kids who live to explore, kids who don’t like to sit still, and kids like that little girl at my book festival table – who want books they can read all by themselves.

UPCOMING EVENT: I’ll be signing copies of FERGUS AND ZEKE on Saturday, June 17th from 3-5pm at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid. If you don’t live nearby but would like personalized, signed copies of any of my books, you can call The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950 or order online here, using the comment section to share the name of the person or family to whom you’d like it signed.

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