Children’s publishing and entertainment company Fabled Films this month released the inaugural novel under its Fabled Films Press imprint. Written by company founder Tracey Hecht and illustrated by Kate Liebman, The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions is the first in a projected 10-book middle-grade series. The novel, which introduces three unlikely animal friends who team up to combat forces threatening their nighttime world, is the cornerstone of the publisher’s middle-grade read-aloud and writing program with the New York Public Library.

In conjunction with local NYPL branches, the program will be offered to more than 20 public schools citywide. Hecht, who designed its format, noted that the initiative’s goal is “to show students the value of literature and reading aloud as entertainment.” She will visit participating schools and lead read-aloud and writing workshops in much the same way that she and her team of writers create books at Fabled Film Press. Children will learn how the press’s story lines are developed, written, and then read aloud as part of the press’s manuscript development.

The book creation process at Fabled Films Press is intrinsically collaborative. Hecht, who has written, directed, and produced for film, devised a style guide for the Nocturnals series and authored the first book, incorporating what she called “rhythmic, snappy dialogue like you might see in a film – in fact we call it literary cinematic vernacular.” She or one of her team of four writers will author each book in the series, with input from the others, creating a model that, Hecht said, “is a bit like television writing.”

She added that the writing team meets two days each week, to “workshop, present outlines, exchange ideas, and read out material out loud, often by a professional reader. I love how collaborative the creative process is and how dynamic our team is. We all believe strongly that great literature can be as social and communal as other entertainment, and we want our books to encourage readers to engage in literature in a similar way they engage in YouTube videos and other screen-based entertainment.”

According to Anna Taylor, coordinator of children’s educational programming for NYPL, The Nocturnals has substantial entertainment value as well as read-aloud potential. “This novel has a mix of quirky characters, STEM concepts, new vocabulary, and mystery, and all of these elements are ideal discussion topics for readers,” she noted. “And I like that the focus of this program is specifically on reading the book and allowing older audiences to experience a book as it is read to them. This is a new type of program for us, as we are not only reaching an older audience for read-alouds, but are bringing the author into schools to connect directly with the kids.”

Taylor added that the Fabled Films Press/NYPL program’s emphasis on reading aloud to children who have outgrown picture books is especially beneficial to kids who are struggling with reading. “By listening to someone else read the book, these students are able to be more engaged in the story and hopefully feel more confident participating in the discussion,” Taylor said. “I hope these reactions will turn current reluctant readers into readers who want to pick up a book on their own – for fun!”

Hecht noted that the Fabled Films Press (whose books are distributed by Consortium) aims to publish four books annually, and anticipates that the company will eventually also launch Nocturnals-based auxiliary content in other media, saying that “kids consume all forms of content today, and their favorite brands should exist in all of them.”

Yet the publisher emphasized her belief in the importance of introducing this and the press’s subsequent series initially in print, and building strong relationships with librarians, teachers, and booksellers, whom she sees as “the strongest gatekeepers encouraging today’s middle-grade kids to reduce their screen time and read a book.” And, of course, to listen to one being read aloud.

The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions by Tracey Hecht, illus. by Kate Liebman. Fabled Films Press, $15.99 Apr. ISBN 978-1-944020-00-2