The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a member-supported, nonprofit unit of Cornell University dedicated to the study and conservation of birds and to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity, commemorated its 100th anniversary last year with the founding of the Cornell Lab Publishing Group. This trade publishing initiative expands the organization’s mission to foster each new generation’s appreciation and care of birds and the environment with a list of children’s and family-oriented titles.
The publishing group also includes the newly launched Persnickety Press, an imprint devoted to children’s books that are not bird-related. Encompassing titles for young readers of all ages, the Persnickety list focuses on nonfiction and fiction titles that aim to contribute to the well-being, growth, and empowerment of children.
Cornell Lab Publishing Group is located in Apex, N.C., the home base of CEO and publisher Brian Scott Sockin, whose career has been largely focused on children’s packaged goods product management and writing. While doing pro-bono work for Cornell Lab, Sockin suggested that the organization expand its communication network, which led to the creation of the publishing group, which he was asked to develop and oversee. “It quickly dawned on me that I had found my dream job, one that allowed me to build a business that combined my passion for writing with my love of birds and nature,” he recalled.
Sockin underscored the pivotal role that birds play in children’s environmental education, as well as the new publishing venture’s mission. “Birds resonate with people of all ages, and they are an instant portal to the natural world for young people,” he observed. “Birds are so accessible and offer immediate gratification. Kids, and adults, everywhere – in any habitat – can look up at the sky and see them. Our goal with our books, which supports Cornell Lab’s mission, is to create emotional connections between people and nature through birds, whether that inspiration turns to lifelong birding, as it often does, or simply makes them more tuned to nature.”
The first book Sockin developed for the Cornell Lab imprint was On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen, who, with her late husband, David Stemple, had long been supportive of Cornell Lab’s mission. Released in May and illustrated by Bob Marstall, the picture book is the first in a series about birds in various habitats, to be followed by On Duck Pond in March and On Gull Beach in spring 2018.
A Fledgling Takes Flight
To build the list, Sockin said, “We brought on board publishing professionals as consultants and freelance editors, some suggested by Jane, including Susan Pearson and Lauren Wohl, and organically began lining up authors and illustrators. We also consult with many of the scientists and ornithological experts at Cornell Lab on an ongoing basis. And once we secured a distribution deal with Legato, a division of Perseus, things really began to gel.”
Rounding out the inaugural Cornell Lab list are Bird Brainiacs by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, illustrated by Rachel Riordan, an activity journal and log book for young birders; Am I Like You? by Laura Erickson and Sockin, illustrated by Anna Rettberg, which spotlights human affinity with birds; and two coloring books for kids and parents: Birds of Paradise: A Coloring Expedition by Edwin Scholes, Tim Laman, and Andrew Leach; and America’s Favorite Birds: 40 Beautiful Birds to Color, by Miyoko Chu, illustrated by Brenda Lyons, offering drawings of species selected by more than 250,000 votes from birders across North America.
Persnickety Press kicks off this fall with five titles: Little Frog and the Scary Autumn Thing, another series launch from Jane Yolen, illustrated by Ellen Shi; picture books Does a Fiddler Crab Fiddle? by Corinne Demas and Artemis Roehrig, illustrated by John Sandford, The Island of Grump by Kenny Lamb, with pictures by Jon Buckner, and A Teeny Tiny Halloween by Lauren L. Wohl, illustrated by Henry Cole; and Dex by Sheri Lynn Fishbach, a middle-grade novel centering on a young gourmet chef.
Future Cornell Lab Publishing Group lists, Sockin anticipated, will feature titles targeted to an even broader range of readers, including graphic novels for young adults and concept board books for toddlers. And, in addition to entertaining and educating young readers, the publisher has another goal. “Giving back is an essential element of the imprint, and we are making every book sale count,” he said. A significant portion – 35% – of the net proceeds from every Cornell Lab Publishing Group book purchase will support children’s educational and community programs established by Cornell Lab. These include BirdSleuth curricula used in K–12 classrooms; Celebrate Urban Birds, which involves 9,000 community-based organizations, the vast majority reaching underserved audiences; and Bird Cams, which brings live, close-up views of birds into millions of classrooms and homes around the world.
The publisher expressed gratitude to Cornell Lab for giving him the chance to helm this new publishing initiative. “This natural extension of the Lab’s history of sharing science with the public is an exciting endeavor for me professionally and personally, as well as for our entire team,” he noted. “The response from booksellers, educators, and librarians to our spring and fall titles has been warm and welcoming, and we look forward to continuing to create high-quality books for children and families that encourage a love of birds and an appreciation for nature.”