Conservation and Children’s Literature: An Interview with Haley & John Rocco About the CBCC
Generally when folks ask to do something with my blog they’ll work through a publicist of some sort. That’s why I was a little surprised with author Hayley Rocco reached out to me directly. Then again, I’d heard of the group she and her husband, artist John Rocco, had created. The CBCC or “Children’s Book Creators for Conservation”. Maybe you saw a mention of them here or there too. They were all over Publisher’s Weekly for a while, but even so I only had the vaguest sense of who the group was and what they were hoping to accomplish. Fortunately, Hayley was able to spell it out for me a little. She said the group was…:
“a nonprofit focused on reconnecting and restoring threatened and endangered wildlife. In October, nine award-winning authors and illustrators are embarking on this inaugural two week volunteer trip to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa together, to assist with a myriad of conservation efforts being made, including anything from snare patrolling with rangers to dehorning rhinos, to helping at the local orphanage and school. Our goal is to not only to bring together likeminded authors, illustrators, and industry folk to raise funding for a cause so dear to our hearts, but to see what stories will be developed while we’re there; stories we can bring home and share with readers to amplify the work these conservationists are doing to help our planet, and ultimately, ourselves.”
Oh! Okay. That made sense. But you know me. I still had questions. And as it turned out, Hayley and John had an answer or two for me:
Betsy Bird: Okay! Hayley! John! So let’s begin at the beginning. You decided to start the group Children’s Book Creators for Conservation. Tell me a bit more about this. This sounds like a major undertaking. Where did this idea start?
Hayley Rocco: It really began after my first volunteer/research trip to South Africa with Wild Tomorrow, a nonprofit working to restore wildlife and wild places in KwaZulu-Natal. While I was there, I kept thinking how incredible it would be to share this experience with other children’s book creators. There are so many of us with common interests, such as the environment, animals, and the people working to save them. Why not get a group of us to experience this together?
John Rocco: When Hayley came back and shared this idea, I was immediately on board. The first thing we did was inquire with Wild Tomorrow’s cofounders, Wendy Hapgood and John Steward. They loved the idea of organizing a unique volunteer trip catered towards children’s book creators, and so we selected some dates, and started planning. We casually reached out to a handful of friends we knew who would be excited about this opportunity, and most of them responded with an immediate “YES!” From there, the Children’s Book Creators for Conservation was born.
BB: I’m the kind of person who enjoys getting a little bogged down in logistics, so tell me a little bit about the nitty gritty of even starting a group of this kind. Who did you contact? And are other children’s book creators able to join?
JR: I think many of us working in the children’s book field are very siloed, even more so since the pandemic. Hayley and I are all about building community, and this felt like the right kind of community to build. Luckily, with the help of Wild Tomorrow, we were easily able create a conservation trip that will be the “kick-off” for the CBCC. As their volunteer trips accommodate groups of 9 or less, we sent the word out and filled this trip quickly. Right now, our focus is this upcoming trip in October and fundraising for Wild Tomorrow, and upon our return we will see how we can grow. And yes, anyone working in the children’s book industry is welcome to join our group—not just authors and illustrators, but editors, art directors, publishers, publicists … you are all welcome!
HR: At this point, we hope that the CBCC becomes a place where other creators can come together to bridge a connection between the conservationists in the field and the children’s book publishing world. We plan on coming back from this trip with incredible stories to share with young readers, as well as opportunities for engagement. The goal being to further connect with schools, libraries, and classrooms in the form of both virtual and in-person visits where we can share our experiences in the field on a deeper level.
BB: How is CBCC organized? Do you have a multi-year plan in mind? And what, most importantly, is your mission statement?
HR: Well, we’ll start with our mission: We are a collective group of children’s book creators who share a love of the planet, support conservation efforts, and believe that protecting biodiversity and re-wilding our planet is essential for a better tomorrow. Our mission is to partner with conservation organizations like Wild Tomorrow, and use our creative storytelling skills to amplify their work and make lasting connections with young readers. Our hope is to make this trip to South Africa with Wild Tomorrow an annual opportunity for not only children’s book creators, but children’s book industry professionals who are passionate about conservation, as well. We all work together through our respective siloes but imagine the different collaborations that could come out of going on an adventure with your editor into the African bush. The possibilities are endless. As of right now, we’re inviting creators and industry professionals to reach out and connect, and from there, we’ll see what direction we go.
JR: As this grows, I would like to see us organizing other trips to work with conservationists in the field. Galapagos, Borneo, and Costa Rica are just a few places that come to mind. The idea is that teachers and their classrooms can follow along with our adventure through our social media channels, and then have us do virtual or in-person school visits to share our experiences with the students. All the proceeds from these visits would then go directly to conservation efforts being made by our partners.
BB: So far you have ten or so members of CBCC. Is the hope to create books individually with conservation themes or will you be publishing together with the same publisher/imprint?
HR: We do have several other creators who are interested but they couldn’t join us for the inaugural trip. We plan to reconnect with them we return and begin planning for our next conservation adventure. As of right now, we’re all working individually, but who knows what will happen when we’re all together in the bush! There are no hard and fast rules.
JR: We did discuss the idea of doing a collective journal-type book, so fingers crossed that comes to fruition! We have some very creative and talented folks who are going to be immersed into one of the most biodiverse hotspots on planet earth. I look forward to seeing what comes out of that.
BB: As you’ve already mentioned, in October this group will be headed to South Africa for two weeks. What’s the purpose of the trip? What are you hoping to accomplish while there?
HR: The purpose of this trip is to not only give children’s book creators hands-on volunteer experience in conservation alongside the ecologists, scientists, and conservationists in the field, but to spend time in the wild together, amongst the wildlife, and come home with new and impactful stories we can share with young readers.
JR: On a personal note, this trip will give me a chance to experience something that Hayley had the opportunity to be a part of last year—a rhino horn trimming. This is a preventive measure used by conservationists to prevent poaching. Hayley has since written a book about her adventure, and as the illustrator it will be invaluable to experience that myself.
BB: You already had me at “rhino horn trimming”. Wow. Well, finally, do you have any future plans for the CBCC? Any directions you’d like it to go?
HR: Our hope is to create new and inspiring opportunities for children’s book creators to collaborate, with conservation in mind, on an annual basis. Ideally, we’d like to connect the publishing world with the important organizations doing conservation work and discover new stories we can share with young readers. Maybe we’ll be able to inspire the next Jane Goodall or David Attenborough’s of the world. Wouldn’t that be something? It’s a lofty goal, but given the plight of our planet, it’s worth a shot to team up and try our best with the storytelling skills we have.
JR: One of the ongoing goals for the CBCC is to help fundraise for the important conservation work being done in the field. Right now, our partner for this upcoming trip is Wild Tomorrow, and the CBCC has a goal of raising $20K to support their efforts. 100% of the money we raise will go towards protecting wildlife, supporting caretakers, restoring wild spaces, and uplifting communities in the KwaZulu-Natal area. You can find out more at https://wildtomorrow.org/cbccdonate
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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