New Middle Grade Series Tackles Bullying and Self-Acceptance
Bullying can be a big part of middle grade children’s lives, and animal protagonists are a big part of children’s literature. Author Tracey Hecht combines the two in the critically acclaimed middle grade series The Nocturnals. The new series focuses on the adventures of the Nocturnal Brigade—a red fox, a pangolin, and a sugar glider. Dawn, the fox, is the leader of the brigade. Tobin, the pangolin, is gentle, resourceful, a bit timid, and infinitely lovable. And then there is Bismark, the “loud-mouthed, pint-sized, sugar glider”! He’s wacky, outspoken, outrageous, and frankly quite insecure at his core, which is understandable given that he’s a five-inch sugar glider living in a wild nighttime realm. The characters band together in a variety of adventures and solve the mysteries of their nocturnal world.
Hecht makes sure that the animal characters experience the same emotions that kids experience. Sharing, friendship, self-confidence, and self-acceptance are among the books’ themes, and the subject of bullying appears throughout the books in a variety of scenarios, all creatively designed to appeal to a middle grade audience in an authentic way.
Each book has villains who start off as bad guys/gals, treating the protagonists (the Nocturnal Brigade) and other characters with disrespect and cruelty. It is kid fiction, and therefore Hecht makes it evidently clear that the villains are bullies. However, they don’t stay that way. Through the narratives, the Nocturnal Brigade frustrates the villains, forcing them to reveal what drives them to act villainously, what fear is motivating them, and what experiences have led them to behave the way that they do. The Nocturnal Brigade, and the other characters in the books, work with the villains to create a bridge of understanding and compassion.
Books are a great gateway tool for raising tricky subjects with kids. It can be a lot easier for kids to talk about how they “imagine” a character feels than to communicate their own personal struggles, as talking about someone else’s vulnerabilities is easier than sharing our own.
For example: in the third book, The Fallen Star, the villain is Iris, an aye-aye who feels like an outcast because of her unusual physical appearance. Iris masks her isolation and pain by being manipulative, aggressive, and threatening, further isolating herself. Throughout the course of the book, and especially at the end, Iris and the other characters come to understand the consequences associated with miscommunication and that kind of behavior.
Everyone knows the feeling of resolving a fight, of feeling heard and hearing the other person, and of saying and receiving an apology. These feelings are clarifying and cathartic, but arriving at them is also hard work. Hecht believes that this process is not innate. It’s learned through lots of practice. The characters and villains in The Nocturnals work through their disputes, communicate their struggles, and, in the end, learn that redemption comes from understanding each other and finding a place of respect and common ground.
By using the example of aye-aye Iris, who is an outcast because she looks and seems different, families can talk about what it means to feel judged or excluded because of differences in appearance, behavior, or even superficial qualities. The series opens up the conversation about why bullies bully and the vicious cycle of misunderstanding. Moreover, the Nocturnal Brigade not only celebrates but relies upon their differences to solve the mysteries in each book, encouraging kids to embrace each other’s differences, not make fun of them.
While the books are full of lessons, they are also full of fun! Through her stories, Hecht is able to invite children into a world that they are usually excluded from—nighttime! She researches the animal’s physical traits and unique characteristics to help develop the characters and enhance the plot. Families can talk about what it means to be nocturnal and discuss facts about endangered species. (The paperback versions of the books contain a bonus animal glossary.)
About the Author:
Tracey Hecht is a writer and entrepreneur who has written, directed, and produced for film. Her first middle grade series, The Nocturnals, was launched in 2016 with The Mysterious Abductions and The Ominous Eye. The American Bookselling Association chose The Mysterious Abductions as a Kids’ Indie Next List pick. Her third book, The Fallen Star, was released in May 2017. The fourth book is set for release in February 2018.
In partnership with the New York Public Library, Tracey created a Read Aloud Writing Program in ten schools around New York City. During the year, she continued to conduct this program in over thirty-five schools, libraries, and bookstores across the country. In June 2017, she launched a partnership with the Ryan Seacrest Foundation to bring The Nocturnals program to the broadcast media centers within pediatric hospitals. The first hospital was the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. In October, there will be events in Nashville, TN, and Charlotte, NC.
Books one through three of The Nocturnals middle grade series are available wherever books are sold and online. This fall, Tracey Hecht has also brought The Nocturnals experience to younger children, ages 5–7, with a new early reader book: The Moonlight Meeting. The books are supported by innovative and creative activities (face painting, build a volcano, discussion questions, fill-in-the-story, and more), all found on Nocturnalsworld.com. The activities serve as a unique way to engage children, spark creativity, and make reading more fun.
When Tracey isn’t writing, she can be found hiking, reading, or spending time with her family. Tracey currently splits her time between New York City and Oquossoc, Maine, with her husband and four children.