One day into the 49th annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the mood was upbeat but realistic, with the strongest interest in the robust fiction category, and even a few positive signs for the comparatively flat picture book market.

“People are coming in with a positive attitude,” said Candace Finn, subsidiary rights manager at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “I’m hearing less gloom and doom. People are saying ‘Show me everything,’ not just ‘Show me your bestsellers.’ No one is throwing crazy money at me in meetings, of course. But even picture books don’t seem so depressed. My sub-agents tell me they’re on an upswing.”

Sheila Barry, who recently joined Groundwood Books as co-publisher, admitted that she’s “always overwhelmed” on the first day of Bologna. But she offered the observation that “YA fiction is still hot. After 11 appointments, nobody is saying that YA is tired. There is still a market to feed.” Though books for teens are still going strong, the white-hot dystopian trend may finally be cooling off. InkWell Management’s Catherine Drayton reported that dystopian fiction is “really quite difficult to sell now.” She had many foreign publishers telling her “we’ve got enough of that right now – we’re looking for realistic fiction.”

Alison Morgan, managing director at Tundra, found that she was “getting out more” at this year’s show, compared to years past. The reason: “We’re only buying this time, which has been nice,” she said (in 2010, The Cooke Agency began selling Tundra’s foreign rights. Morgan said she was looking for some “funkier nonfiction than we’ve been doing” for middle-graders and had already seen a few titles she was interested in (though she was not willing to divulge just what they were).

First Timers Take in the Fair

“It makes me realize how big publishing and the book world really is,” said Chad Beckerman, art director at Abrams, who was attending the show for the first time. In between appointments, Beckerman was scouring for possible books to pick up (“I haven’t acquired anything just yet”). For the publisher, the big news is Diary of a Wimpy Kid creator Jeff Kinney’s appearance at the show on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s the first time Jeff has been around all lot of his publishers all at once,” said Beckerman.

Another first-time attendee is Barb Knight, director of sales at Tiger Tales, which is making its first appearance at the show as an exhibitor. “We went to Frankfurt for the first time in the fall, which was a big learning experience,” Knight said. “It’s great that [the Bologna] show is children’s-specific.”

The fair got off to a good start for first-time attendee Chintu Parikh, CEO and founder of SachManya, a creator of apps and e-books for the children’s market: he received news from San Francisco that one of his apps, Being Global, created for Little Pickle Press, won an Appy Award Monday night, beating out Disney’s It’s a Small World. (Parikh gave a demonstration of the app at Sunday’s TOC Bologna conference). “There’s more of a general awareness of digital, and it’s my task to communicate what the options are,” Parikh said.

Charlesbridge’s Megan Quinn, another first-timer, said she was having a “fantastic” fair so far. She was enjoying seeing which titles on her company’s lists worked for other countries, and said, “It’s nice to see the children’s book world on a larger scale.”