“We can be bold in adventure. We can be brave in challenge. We can be friends.”
The Nocturnals series features three unlikely friends: Dawn, a serious fox, Tobin, a sweet pangolin, and Bismark, the loud mouthed, pint-sized sugar glider. The stories all play out in their nighttime world with teamwork, friendship and humor in every adventure.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco but knew even when I was young that I wanted to move and live in New York City. As soon as I finished college, I moved to New York and for the most part have been there ever since.
Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes! I loved to read, and I remember in elementary school choosing many recess periods to sit in my classroom and finish a book. I remember once in sixth grade staying to read Where the Red Fern Grows, and when everyone came back from break, I was sobbing on a bean bag in the reading corner of Mrs. Lapachet’s homeroom! That was a bit embarrassing.
Who are some of your favorite authors/books?
I love Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo. For me as a reader, it is immensely engaging, and for me as a writer, it is immeasurably inspiring. Kate DiCamillo’s characters and story lines have always possessed poignant clarity and honesty. I also love the Save the Story series. The best book is a book that leaves you wanting more, and that’s just what Antigone from the Save the Story series did for me. My 25-year-old actor/writer/poet daughter gave my 9-year-old video game/soccer-playing son the Save the Story version of Antigone for Christmas last year. He read it, I read it, we read it aloud, and then we ordered the nine other books from the Save the Story series. These books captivated my entire family.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always been a writer, since I was young. As a child, I also wanted to be an illustrator, and I remember using oil paints in particular to create characters, mostly human at that time. I was an English/creative writing major in college and found jobs from early on that allowed me to write.
Tell us about some of the jobs you had before you became a writer.
I had many jobs! From my early days of babysitting to office administrator and temp jobs in high school. I was a waitress, and I worked in advertising and marketing as well. Then, when I was 40, I sold my business and took a year off. I spent the year thinking about what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to write and create, and I also believe strongly in the value of children’s literature as both a form of entertainment and a cognitive tool for children’s development. I decided to write a children’s series that recognized storytelling more broadly. It was over the course of that year that The Nocturnals brand was born.
How did you get started writing?
It’s fun to think of the progression. It all started with the challenge of putting my kids to bed! I thought it would be fun to do a series for kids based on characters that woke up right when kids were just going to sleep. The Nocturnals animals came from that basic idea, and that’s when the series started to take shape. I truly remember sitting on a deck in Maine early one morning four years ago. There was a heavy fog over the lake, and I was the only one in my family awake. I sketched the first ideas for The Nocturnals that morning. Now I’m surrounded by an incredible team and all of our amazing readers, librarians, teachers, and bookstores, and I’m filled with many more ideas of what we’ll do next.
Why do you write books?
I wanted to create a world that children were usually excluded from—nighttime! And once I decided on nocturnal animals, the rest came from there. An exciting aspect—and one that actually surprised me—was how much I like the research. Learning about unusual animals is one of the most fun things about the series. I love using the physical traits and unique characteristics of the animals to help develop characters and enhance plot.
What do you like best about writing?
One of the main reasons I write is to encourage families to incorporate reading together into their routines. Reading aloud is not only vital for a child’s critical thinking and development, but it’s fun and a great opportunity for family bonding. To extend my belief in reading as the center of shared family entertainment, my team and I partnered with The Wyndham Grand Hotel Group for a nationwide family program, Reconnected, a Family Experience—a program that addresses the need for family quality time over screen time—and my first book, The Mysterious Abductions, was included as part of the program for families on vacation.
What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The moment right before you start. As soon as I am writing, I’m happy, but most days the moments leading up to writing are when I begin to feel daunted. I just have to force myself to dive in!
What do you think makes a good story?
I think rhythmic voices make for compelling stories, especially when reading aloud. When I started writing The Nocturnals, I had just finished writing for film and television. At the time, I was inspired to write a dialogue-based book series in a kind of cinematic vernacular, as I thought kids would find it fun to read. I wrote the three main characters of The Nocturnals in a 3-2-1 staccato. It gives the books a distinct tone, which I love!
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere. People, places, conversations, events, books, television. My imagination can run away pretty quickly, and all it takes is some tiny instigator to get it started. I use my phone less than most people as a result. I like the empty time—the time when I’m not doing anything or looking at anything when my mind can run away.
Tell us about your latest book/project.
My latest book, The Peculiar Possum, is the third addition to my Grow & Read program. It’s a story on the importance of staying true to oneself and not being afraid to be “peculiar” or unique. The story is told with plenty of humor while underscoring the importance of respecting differences in others—a key lesson for children in this age group. My team and I have also developed The Kindness Game. It’s a game designed to support literacy skills and social and emotional learning. The game is ideal for incorporating into bullying-prevention programs and concludes with a student-lead exercise in identifying kind words and behaviors to promote a culture of kindness in schools and libraries.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing two more early readers right now. One deals with cheating and wanting to win; I think many kids can relate to that desire. And the other is about imagination, how letting your mind wander can be great entertainment.
Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or
My favorite time to read is on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when I’ve finished any weekend work and I don’t have to worry about starting anything new. I love to read with a snack, and depending on my mood, salty or sweet, I have three favorite reading snacks:
1. Homemade popcorn (popped in a pot, not an air popper) with lime, butter, and salt
2. Supersize whole-wheat scone with raspberry jam
3. Either Mother’s Chocolate Chip Cookies or Nabisco’s Chips Ahoy with mint tea
For more information about Tracey Hecht and her books, visit NocturnalsWorld.com.