An illustration of a girl surrounded by animals friends
Fionna Fernandes

Veronica's Pack

Veronica has always been too shy to speak up—until some surprising friends help her find her voice. Featuring a character created by Kaylan R. of Cairo, NY, the winner of this year's Create a Character Contest!

By Lauren Magaziner
From the May / June 2019 Issue
Lexile: 600L-700L
Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50
UP CLOSE: Author’s Craft

As you read, pay attention to the figurative language the author uses to help you understand Veronica.

Veronica leaned against a tree, feeling more embarrassed every second. Her face was hot, and she could hear someone—probably Gabby—call her name. But Veronica stayed hidden in the shadows.

She wished that she hadn’t said yes when Gabby invited her to play kickball after school. Well, she didn’t say yes, exactly. She just didn’t say no. When Gabby asked, Veronica had—without a word—sheepishly followed the group to Gabby’s backyard.

“You never get to be captain, Veronica,” Gabby said. “Why don’t you pick a team this time?”

And Veronica froze.

She just froze. Like a deer in headlights. She couldn’t move—she couldn’t speak. Her face went beet red, and then she ran.

Why did she have to be so bashful? Why couldn’t she be the type of person who was outgoing, who easily joined the group? She didn’t want to run. But she did, and now she was alone. Just her and the forest.

The forest understood her. The woods were just as quiet as she was.

The air smelled fresh and crisp. The trees were so tall that the leaves could paint the sky. Veronica knew she was truly lucky to live so close to her town’s woodlands and to be able to experience uninterrupted nature . . .


The noise echoed through the forest, breaking the tranquility of the woods. Heart pounding, Veronica weaved between trees to the source of the sound. There, at last, she saw it. At the edge of the woods, a few men were sawing down trees and placing them into trucks. A new sign read: Coming Soon: Forest View Mall!

They’re clearing the forest, Veronica realized, feeling crushed, as though one of the trees the men were felling dropped right on top of her. They seemed to be at the beginning of their project—but how long before they chopped down the whole woods?

I should say something, she thought. Her throat was dry. “Hey! Don’t! Please stop cutting down the for—”


The chain saw drowned out her voice. Tears in her eyes, Veronica turned away.

What should she do? What could she do? She was only one person. How could she, alone, stop them?

She angrily stomped toward her home. Only, the tip of her sneaker caught on a large root and she tripped. She stayed on the ground for a moment—dirt on her leggings, palms scraped, chin on the earth. In a few months, this might all be a parking lot. And there was nothing she could do.

She squinted. There was another big root up ahead, and it looked like there was something underneath it. A stone that was glowing. She reached forward to pull it out, but it was stuck tight. But the moment her fingers touched the stone, a shock jolted through her.

“Ouch! What was that?” she said, sitting up. She wanted to examine the stone some more, but she did not want to be electrocuted.

“I wouldn’t touch random piles on the ground. That is a dangerous game,” said a deep voice behind her.

She turned around, but there was no one there.

“Hello?” she whispered into the wind. The forest seemed suddenly colder, and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. “Who—who’s there?”

“Can you hear me?” the voice said.

“Who’s there?” Veronica repeated. She turned around quickly, trying to look in all directions at once.

“Dear me!” said the voice. A bush rustled, and a big, majestic buck jumped out from behind it. He was followed by a doe and a trembling baby fawn. It was a family of deer.

“You’re . . . deer?”

“That’s what I said,” the buck said. “Deer? ME!”

“But . . . I must be dreaming,” Veronica said, pinching herself. “Deer can’t talk!”

“Of course we can. You just couldn’t hear.”

Veronica shook her head. She pinched herself again, but she definitely wasn’t dreaming. This was unbelievable—astounding.

The doe whistled, and the forest began to rumble. From all around the woods, animals were stampeding and flying their way: skunks, chipmunks, foxes, owls, wolves, a whole flock of birds, and even a bear. “She can hear us!” the doe said excitedly.

“Whooooooooo?” said the owl.

“The human!”

They were surrounding her on all sides. They encircled her and blocked her path. “This can’t be real,” Veronica whispered. The animals blinked at her with big, glassy eyes.

“We have no time for pleasantries,” said the fox. “Now that you can understand us, we need your help.”

“My help?”

“You saw the edge of the forest, didn’t you? They’re destroying our home.”

“It stinks,” said the skunk.

“It’s pawsitively unbearable,” growled the bear.

A snake uncurled itself from a tree branch and swung from its tail. “If you let them continue, our home will be hisssssssstory!”

Veronica shook her head. “I’m sorry . . . I wish I could do something, but there’s nothing I can do.”

There was a collective, disapproving murmur. “I can’t bear to listen to this,” growled the bear, baring every one of its pointy teeth.

“You don’t understand,” Veronica said. “I’m just one person. All alone, I can’t make a difference. They can’t even hear me over the chain saws.”

“Well, don’t you have a flock, like us?” chirped the birds. “Or a herd? Or a pride? Or a colony? Or a gaggle? Or a pack?”

Veronica shuffled her feet. She thought of all the other kids in her neighborhood—the friendly, loud, laughing kids. And how she couldn’t say a single word in front of them. Finally, she whispered, “I don’t know if I have one of those.”

“Well, find one. When the whole pack howls together,” said the wolf, “it’s hard to ignore.” The wolves began to howl at the sun, since it was still daytime.

Veronica thought deeply. Being quiet and shy all her life, she had never charged into battle before. But this was important. It wasn’t just about her and the woods she loved. She had to save the animals’ home too.

She had to try. “I think I know what to do. Meet me here tomorrow afternoon.”

She wandered out of the forest. The sound of laughing and shouting echoed from Gabby’s backyard still. Veronica wiped her sweaty palms on her leggings and marched over to her neighbor’s house again.

Everyone stopped playing at once and stared at her. She could feel her face getting flush again.

“Veronica!” Gabby said with a wave. “I’m so glad you came back. Want to play?”

Veronica shook her head. “I . . . we . . .” You can do it, she told herself. She closed her eyes. “I, um, need your help.”

She told them about the loggers in the forest, and they listened intently. They didn’t laugh; in fact, they became as angry as she felt.

When she’d finished, Gabby stood up. “We can’t let this happen!”

“No!” said a boy named John. “But we need more people.”

Gabby linked elbows with Veronica. “Then let’s find them.”

The 10 of them went together, door to door, around the neighborhood. Then, from Veronica’s house, they took turns calling friends from school, extended family, every number they knew. They gave as much information as they could, and a time and place to meet.

When Veronica walked back into the woods the next day, she had 40 people with her—family and new friends alike. She led them through the trees, to the area that was being deforested.

Her parents looked at the fallen trees in horror. “There used to be a tire swing in here,” Veronica’s dad said. “I spent every day on that swing when I was your age.”

“This is where we played capture the flag last summer,” John said to Gabby, pointing to the area that was cleared of trees.

Their cries rose together; it turned into a collective sound of determination and strength. The people in her town stood in a line, linking arms.

The men dropped their saws, unsure of what to do next.

Gabby’s mom handed Veronica a megaphone. Veronica looked at it, and her throat went dry. She was freezing up again, like a block of ice. There was no way she could speak in front of a crowd. She started to shrink into her sweatshirt.

But from the other side of the clearing, the animals nodded. When the whole pack howls together, it’s hard to ignore.

This was her pack. They were here. And she had to start the howl. Veronica took a deep breath. “Thank you for coming,” she said into the megaphone. “Now let’s save this forest!”

Everyone cheered.

They shouted for an hour, until the loggers retreated. It was a good first step to stopping the mall construction. Veronica knew they would be back another day, but the community would just have to battle them again.

“Let’s order some victory pizzas!” Gabby shouted. “You in, Veronica?”

Veronica smiled. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

The crowd chattered excitedly together as they walked back to the neighborhood at the edge of the woods. But Veronica slipped away to find the animals.

“Thankssssssss for helping us,” the snake said.

“That’s a strong pack you have there,” said a wolf.

A shock traveled down her arms, and her ears felt like they were underwater. For a moment, it sounded like the animals were howling and growling and hissing again.

“Cheep cheep!” said a few birds.

“Rawr!” roared the bear.

She was losing her power now.

No, it didn’t feel like she was losing anything. She had gained something.

Still, she wiggled a finger in her ear and caught one last sentence from the baby deer. “I’ve grown quite fawned of you! I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll still be here,” Veronica said. “And we’ll make sure you are too.” 

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Can't-Miss Teaching Extras

The animals Veronica meets fear that loggers will destroy their homes—but animals and their habitats aren’t the only things impacted when forests are cut down. Share this Kiddle article with your students to help them learn about deforestation and its devastating effects on the environment.    

The wolf tells Veronica, “When the whole pack howls together, it’s hard to ignore.” Show the Storyworks video “Sleeping With the Wolves: A Night at the Wolf Conservation Center” from our October/November 2018 issue to remind students how they can “howl” for wolves.       

In the story, Veronica is frustrated by her shyness and wishes she could be more outgoing. This article from Kids Health explains why kids are shy sometimes and gives some tips for overcoming it.        

More About the Story


Author’s craft, figurative language, problem and solution, plot, character, theme, opinion writing

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning/Purpose

“Veronica’s Pack" is a magical realist story about an extremely shy girl who learns to speak up when her beloved local forest is in danger. The nature of bravery and the importance of being the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves are explored. The story’s overall message is that we are more effective when we work together. Readers will need to make several inferences to fully understand the story.


The story is told from the main character’s point of view and is chronological.


The story contains a great deal of figurative language, including similes, metaphors, puns and other wordplay. The language is richly descriptive and includes some challenging vocabulary, such as sheepishly, jolted, pleasantries, and encircled. It has several rhetorical questions.

Knowledge Demands 

The story refers to various forest animals (e.g., buck, doe, fawn, skunk, chipmunk, bear, snake), the sounds they make (e.g., whoo, hiss, rawr), and the names of their groups (pack, herd, gaggle, colony, flock, pride).  

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Set a Purpose for Reading (5 minutes)  

  • Point out that this story is the result of our Create a Character contest. Direct students’ attention to page 15 so they can “meet” author Lauren Magaziner and 11-year-old Kaylan Rennig, our contest winner.
  • Preview the questions in the margins. Point out the blank “Write your own question” bubble on page 13.
  • Call on a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box for the class.

Vocabulary (10 minutes)

  • Distribute our vocabulary activity to preview five words. Students will also be able to add other unfamiliar words from the story.
  • Vocabulary words include bashful, tranquility, pleasantries, collective, and deforested.

2. Close Reading

First Read: Get to Know the Text (20 minutes)

  • Have students read the story independently or listen to the audio version as they follow along in their magazines.

Second Read: Unpack the Text (30 minutes)

  • Read the story again as a class, pausing to discuss the close-reading questions in the margins. Answers follow.
  • Discuss the critical-thinking questions.

Answers to Close-Reading Questions

  • Author’s Craft (p. 11) The author, Lauren Magaziner, is comparing Veronica to animals that don’t assert themselves. Magaziner wants readers to understand that Veronica has difficulty speaking up for herself. Also, Magaziner might have wanted to hint at Veronica’s connection to animals, since later she becomes able to speak with, and for, them.
  • Figurative Language (p. 11) The author used this hyperbole to help readers picture how tall the trees were. Also, the image of trees painting the sky reflects the awed and cheerful feelings the trees inspire in Veronica.
  • Identifying Problems (p. 12) The first problem is that workers are cutting down the forest that Veronica loves. The second problem is that she feels drowned out—she’s not loud or powerful enough to make her objection heard.
  • Suspense (p. 12) The author builds suspense by putting Veronica in a tense situation where neither she, nor readers, know what is going on or what will happen next. First, Veronica feels an unexplained jolt when she touches the stone. Then, she hears a voice but can’t see where it comes from. This suspense builds as she keeps looking “in all directions at once.”
  • Play on Words (p. 12) Veronica hears a voice say what she thinks is “dear me,” meaning “oh my.” But it’s actually a deer identifying itself, responding to Veronica’s question “Who’s there?” The animal says “Deer? ME!” This play on words adds humor to the story.
  • Plot (p. 13) The animals want Veronica to speak up for them and stop the construction so their home will be saved.
  • Character (p. 13) Veronica doubts whether she has a group because she feels powerless to speak up to her friends. She quietly follows along but doesn’t feel confident to lead, like when she ran away from being captain of the kickball team.
  • Character (p. 14) This is an important moment because Veronica finally finds the courage to overcome her shyness and ask her friends for help.
  • Author’s Craft (p. 14) The author compares Veronica to a wolf. Wolves form packs, giving them strength in numbers. Like a wolf howling with its pack, Veronica will have a more powerful voice if she protests the construction with many other people.
  • Character (p. 15) Veronica gained the confidence to speak up and be the leader of a group. She learned that she can gather her own team to make a difference.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • Why do you think the author includes magical elements, like talking animals, in this story? Do you think the story would be as good without them? (author’s craft) The author probably includes magical elements to give an unexpected and dramatic reason for Veronica to change and grow. Answers will vary for the second question.
  • Why do you think the story is titled “Veronica’s Pack”? Why might someone need a pack? (theme) The title refers to the group of kids and adults who are willing to help Veronica try to save the forest. They are like a wolf pack that is “hard to ignore” when they howl together: They stop the loggers by coming together and loudly protesting. At first, Veronica thinks she doesn’t have a pack. She finds out otherwise when the kids quickly agree to help her. Answers will vary for the second question.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Author’s Craft

  • Distribute our author’s craft Skill Builder and have students complete it in small groups.
  • Writing Prompt: Imagine that you are Veronica. Write a letter to the local newspaper explaining why the forest should not be cut down.

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

For a first read, play our audio version of the story as students follow along in their magazines. Then have students read it again in small groups, pausing to discuss the questions in the margins.

For Advanced Readers

Invite students to retell this story from another character’s point of view. For example, what story would Gabby or one of the forest animals tell about what happened?

For ELL Students

ELLs might need help understanding the many animal-related puns from pages 12-13, when Veronica first hears the forest animals speak. Read the passage aloud to your students, pausing at each pun. Guide students in a brief discussion about what each phrase means and why it’s a play on words.

Story Connection

Our October/November 2018 fiction feature makes a great pairing with this story. “Brave Chicken” is another tale of how a young girl overcomes her shyness to speak up for others. Ask students to compare Izzy’s experiences with Veronica’s. What role do animals play in each story?