Contributed by Tracey Hecht
I remember when I was a kid that adults would often respond to my beliefs on social, human, and political positions with some version of: Well, you won’t feel that way when you grow up. I was raised in a conservative town with conservative ideals (starting, I suppose, with the belief that kids’ opinions were not of equal value!). But I remember thinking, even at the time: Oh, I bet you’re wrong about that. I bet I’ll feel exactly the same way when I grow up.
Well, I’m grown up! Or I am at least by the measures specified by the adults of my childhood, and I in fact do feel the same way on most of those issues. With the confidence of age, I might even maintain some of my positions more vigorously.
I am currently the writer of a book series for seven- to twelve-year-olds. The series has some other stuff I still like from childhood: imagination, mystery, a little bit of adventure. But in these books I also focus a lot on compassion and understanding. In particular, I extend these themes to my villains. I do this because my human, social, and political views are, at their core, founded in the belief that humans are the same. People of all gender, color and income levels—we’re not as far apart as we sometimes appear. In fact, our distance is sometimes our shared vulnerabilities and insecurities, just expressed in different ways.
My villains are bullies, meanies, bad guys. That’s what we do in kid fiction: we make the issues clear. The villains in my books treat the protagonists and other characters with disrespect and cruelty. But none of my villains get to stay villains. I make them work harder. My villains have to reveal what drives them to act villainously, why they behave like bullies and meanies and bad guys, what fear is motivating them, and what experiences lead them to behave the way that they do. And then I make my protagonists work with those villains to bridge some kind of understanding and compassion.
It sounds painfully moralistic, but take comfort: we’re dealing with nocturnal animals! And the villainy includes things like nocturnal hockey. It’s pretty silly stuff, but kids get it. They understand what we grown-ups often forget: that we all protect ourselves by hiding our fears and insecurities and that oftentimes that protection manifests in the form of bad behavior. It’s a lot easier for us to stick out our chins, put our hands on our hips, and say something nasty than to reveal the fragilities within ourselves—just as it’s easier for someone to say something nasty in response than to stop to ask why we might be behaving that way or maybe reveal one of their own vulnerabilities as well. My villains and protagonists don’t get that option. But in return, not only do they get resolution, they get shared redemption as well.
Our current national and even international dilemma is following a similar narrative. We have a lot of people with a lot of fears and a lot of insecurities. We see grown-ups every day: chins out, hands on hips, aspersions flying. The problem is none of us is doing a very good job of extending much compassion or understanding.
I am currently touring with my books. I get asked a lot of questions about the villains, and there is usually lively discussion about how compassion and understanding not only bridge apparent gaps but liberate us from insecurities as well. And there is always a kid or two who draws a connection to the national narrative. If my seven- to twelve-year-olds can see the parallels, I am sure we “grown-ups” can too. The current national narrative, like my stories, requires it. We must bridge these differences and work to hear what the other is saying, lest we find our kids acting exactly the same way when they “grow up.” And that would not be a good end to the story.
To learn more about The Fallen Star and The Nocturnals please visit www.nocturnalsworld.com or follow on FB, Instagram and Twitter @nocturnalsworld
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 will be released in May 2017. In partnership with the New York Public Library, Tracey Hecht has created a Nocturnals Read Aloud Writing program for middle graders that has expanded nationwide. 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.