No Name-Calling Week: Kindness and Empathy in The Nocturnals

Tracey Hecht, the author of the Nocturnals, is posing with a group of middle grade students. Two girls at the front of the picture are holding up copies of The Nocturnals: Hidden Kingdom and The Nocturnals: The Fallen Star.

Next week is No Name-Calling Week, which brings awareness to the problem of bullying and teaches kids to respect other people’s differences—something that can be difficult for many children to grasp. When someone looks or acts in a way that seems strange or different, it can feel scary for kids and make them want to call that person names, especially if they think that person might be threatening or might take something away from them.

The Nocturnals author and parent Tracey Hecht has seen bullying first hand and knows how important it is to discuss this issue with children at home, in school, or at the library. In her books, Dawn the fox, Tobin the pangolin, and Bismark the sugar glider—members of the Nocturnal Brigade—meet many different creatures, and some of them look, speak, and behave in ways that might not seem normal. It would be easy for the Brigade to call these creatures names and cast them aside, but as Tracey’s story teaches, it’s important to make friends with all different types of people (and species) or one might miss out on very special friendships.

This is a lesson Bismark learns in The Peculiar Possum: When he meets Penny the possum, he calls her “peculiar.” He says that she smells different, and he’s especially upset that she’s taken “his” pomelos. But Dawn argues that the pomelos belong to everyone and points out that she and Tobin have befriended Bismark despite his quirks, so Bismark should do the same for Penny.

Like Penny, each member of the Brigade has unique features, like Dawn’s large, keen eyes, Bismark’s skin flaps, and Tobin’s long tongue. Parents and teachers can use the Nocturnal Brigade to teach kids acceptance by asking them about what features or traits they have that make them unique and by urging them to talk about a time when they felt singled out or different. They can also discuss what to do if kids witness someone being bullied or called a mean name and then role-play how to intervene in a kind, helpful way, like Dawn does in The Peculiar Possum.

When we stop labeling people and calling them names, we’re able to see how the ways in which we’re different can actually be positive. During No Name-Calling Week, let’s try to follow the Brigade’s example and be kind and empathetic. As Dawn says to Bismark: “None of us are exactly alike. But that doesn’t make us peculiar. That makes each of us unique.”