The Shelf Care Interview: Tracey Hecht

Welcome to the Shelf Care Interview, an occasional conversation series where Booklist talks to book people. This Shelf Care Interview is sponsored by Fabled Films Press.

In this episode of the Shelf Care Interview, Julia Smith talks to Tracey Hecht, author of The Nocturnals book series, which began as a middle-grade series with The Mysterious Abductions and has since expanded to include Grow & Read early readers, all published by Fabled Films Press. In this latter category we have The Chestnut Challenge, The Best Burp (released this May), and coming up in August, The Weeping Wombat hits the shelves.

You can listen to this Shelf Care Interview here. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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JULIA SMITH: Thank you for joining me, Tracey.

TRACEY HECHT: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Tell us about your latest book, or any of the books in this series that you would like to focus on.

Well, the middle-grade books are, you know, chapter books that fall for mostly, fourth, fifth grade, but obviously some younger kids and older kids read them too. The early reader books came from them because I love read-alouds and have written the middle-grade books to be read aloud in an enjoyable way for family. And what I heard from librarians and families and teachers was that little kids wanted to have the same stories. So, I used the same characters and created a different series of books in the early reader category, which is The Chestnut Challenge and The Best Burp and The Weeping Wombat. But they have similar qualities—at the core being the characters—but they deal with very different themes, both of the series. And they obviously have a very different delivery in terms of the reading level.

What would you say inspires your writing?

You know, I started writing these books because my children don’t like to go to bed. So, I thought it would be really fun to do a series that started when it was time to go to sleep. And then, pretty quickly after that, I started researching nocturnal animals, which are so awesome and really wacky, and the nighttime realm, equally engaging and compelling and mysterious and fantastic. And, from that, the series really has been a total pleasure to write because there’s so much material. On top of that, one of the things I love about this age group is that they do really like nonfiction, too. So, the ability to read these fictional stories and have this great, rollicky time, but then be able to go and learn about these animals or these nighttime dynamics is a really exciting part of the series, I think, for kids and the programming that goes with the books.

And how have libraries played a role in your reading or writing life?

HECHT: Oh gosh, are you kidding?! I mean, that would take the whole entire interview. I love libraries, and I feel like libraries, as a parent and as a child, are really where you spend a lot of your youth. It’s just one of those places that it’s safe, it’s full of so much excitement, it’s wonderful, and it really opens up so many new worlds to you. And so, for us, we have a lot of focus on libraries. Part of the reason why it matters so much to us is because we’re also a series. It might be nice to buy one of the books in the series, but then to be able to get all of the books in the series [from the library] is really great, especially right now. You know, that’s the world we’re living in. It’s expensive, like if you’re an early reader, to buy 10 of the early readers. It’s nice to maybe have one or two and then go your library to read the others—and it’s the same for the middle-grade books. We do a lot with our library partners, and it’s a really important part of Fabled Films Press’ initiative.

On that note, I believe I’ve seen something about Nocturnals virtual story times?

HECHT: Yes, we do them. It’s funny, we’ve always done them, but we do them a lot right now. Because one of the things about this generation of kids—and my goodness, even more so in the last weeks—is that they’re really comfortable interacting on a screen. So, I’m just able to do so many more visits, because I do them virtually. And I do them large format for an entire school with 1,000 kids in an auditorium or in the gym, and I do them for really small story times in libraries for whoever shows up in that morning read-aloud program. It’s been really fantastic to do the read-alouds and something that, because I have done it so much, I feel really capable and ready to do in this current dynamic.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

HECHT: Oh, well I truly love children’s literature and middle-grade fiction. I truly love it, and I do love adult fiction, too. I read so much middle-grade fiction because it’s what I write, and also, because I think it’s such an amazing time as a human, because it’s the first time you get information all on your own. Nobody tells it to you. It’s a really great thing to see what’s getting delivered to kids at this age because the world has expanded so much, and the thinking and the ways that people engage with one another have expanded so much. So, middle-grade fiction, I think, is really important in terms of how it influenced us all. And so I do read a lot of middle-grade fiction, but I just read a really great nonfiction book by a Lebanese writer who I love that was an adult fiction book.

This Shelf Care Interview was sponsored by Fabled Films Press, publisher of Tracy Hecht’s Nocturnal series, and be on the lookout for The Weeping Wombat, available August 11, 2020. Happy reading!

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About the Author:

Julia Smith is a senior editor for Books for Youth at Booklist. She is a graduate of the MLIS program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is also an aspiring aerialist. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaKate32.

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