Bologna is celebrating its golden anniversary, and although one of the joys of the fair is reconnecting with longtime colleagues and friends from around the world, there are also many firsts this year: new lists launching, first-time attendees taking it all in, and Bologna veterans returning in new roles.

Barbara Marcus is attending her first Bologna since taking over as president of Random House Children’s Books. She said she was seeing “some interesting things, some series and some single titles.” Since Random House’s large joint U.S./U.K. stand directly faces Penguin’s equally large joint stand, Marcus said that with the impending merger, people had been joking about next year’s fair, and how they could just build a bridge across the aisle.

In Marcus’s group, Frances Gilbert was at her first fair in her new role as editorial director of Doubleday Children’s Books, after coming over from Sterling Publishing last June, and she said she was enjoying some of the benefits of being part of such a large company. “Globally it’s immediately recognized,” she said. “It’s interesting to see things from a bigger perspective. And I’ve got my editor’s hat on again – I don’t have to unpack boxes.”

A debut author was creating a lot of excitement at Puffin U.K., for a book bought just before the fair by editorial director Ben Horslen, who’s been on the job for just eight weeks. Horslen bought world rights to Half Bad by Sally Green in a pre-empt from agent Claire Wilson of Rogers, Coleridge and White, and is auctioning U.S. rights at Bologna. “It came in on Tuesday, I bought it on Thursday, and we submitted it on Friday,” Horslen said. “It’s a debut voice with such confidence. I read 20 pages and knew I wanted it.” He calls the book “The Left Hand of God with a touch of Harry Potter, rewritten by Patrick Ness.” A film deal may be announced at the fair; more to come.

It was the first time back Bologna since 1987 for Tim Chadwick, who took over as chairman of the Quarto Group last November; back in the ’80s, he was founder and executive chairman of All Books for Children. Also attending her first Bologna in years was Sue Tarsky, newly appointed publisher of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, part of the Quarto Group since 2011. Tarsky was looking to build her list at the fair, and also brought with her a dummy that her team had put together in just two weeks: Kaleidograph, by artist Norman Brosterman. It’s a book-plus-toy package, based on the principles of Friedrich Fröbel, who invented the concept of kindergarten; the book aims to show children how nature relates to their everyday lives. Tarsky has world rights, and reported strong interest from French and American publishers.

While this wasn’t Elise Howard’s first time at Bologna, it’s her first as publisher of Algonquin Young Readers. While she’s focused on the five books on her imprint’s fall launch list, she also brought to Italy a few adult Algonquin titles with teenage protagonists. “Crossover is definitely a word I’m hearing tons of,” she said. “People are coming with the mission of finding crossover YA.” In talking up her first titles in her role as publisher, she said people have been very receptive but sometimes their feedback can require thick skin. “It’s funny to hear them say, ‘No, it’s not for me.’ You just have to absorb that and move on.” So far, Howard said she had one “first-timer moment,” as she put it. “I was in a meeting with a German publisher pitching the heck out of Somebody Up There Hates You,” she said. When they expressed interest in the book, Howard put her head down on the table, remembering, “Oh, I sold that last week.”

As of March 1, Bonnier in Finland has a new CEO, Timo Julkunen, and it was his first-ever Bologna. His background is in advertising and magazines, and he said he felt his job at Bonnier is to “create chances” for his publishers, which include Tammi and WSOY. WSOY publisher Lippo Luukkonen called the market for children’s books “stable,” but the e-book market in Finland is still tiny, according to Julkunen, “close to zero.” As far as devices, it’s very much an iPad market, with “no one distributor strong enough to claim the market, like Amazon.” The sales numbers for e-books are very small, Julkunen said, “but it’s coming.”

For Caitlyn Dlouhy, v-p and editorial director at Atheneum and an enthusiastic first-time attendee, coming to Bologna has meant exposure to a slew of unfamiliar artists and illustrators. “I’ve been floored by the artwork – the art from Russia, some gorgeous artwork from Finnish illustrators, the French publishers.” She’s also on the lookout for fiction, having acquired some works in translation in the past. “For me, it’s all about the beauty of the language,” she said. “I’m not looking for a big series. If the writing is beautiful, if I can even get just a couple chapters translated, it’s enough for me to know” that it’s something she wants to move forward with.

Another first-timer – Emily Meehan, editorial director at Disney-Hyperion – felt, as many have been commenting this year, that interest in middle-grade fiction is increasing. “What I’ve been hearing from everyone in meetings is that their YA lists are completely full. The trend seems to mirror a trend of mine, acquiring more middle-grade. They also seem to be looking for humor.”

Rachel Williams, publisher of the brand-new Big Picture Press, a Templar imprint that Candlewick will publish in the U.S., is debuting her first list at the fair. She called it a list of “highly visual books, stylishly designed, fun but with real purpose and meaning.” Among the offerings on the debut list: Welcome to Mamoko by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski, first in a series of wordless books that follow the adventures of 20 characters throughout the pages, which has been published with great success by Two Sisters in Poland; Maps, an illustrated world atlas from the same authors and the same publisher, which in December was the bestselling book in Poland (for children or adults); Walk This World, a “celebration of life in a day” by Lotta Nieminen, a debut author; and The Goods, a collection of games, puzzles, comics, and activities done in collaboration with McSweeney’s, with contributors that include Mo Willems, Oliver Jeffers, and Jon Klassen.

It was the first Bologna for Argentinean publisher Calibroscopio, though it has been in business for 15 years. Publisher/director Judith Wilhelm said it was “a great feeling” at the fair, to be able to see so many different styles of illustrations from so many countries. She also enjoyed the happenstance of meeting people in the aisles, as when she was introduced to a Brazilian author who said he’d been wanting to work with a particular Argentinean illustrator, who turned out to be one of her artists.

Not a first, but a first in a long time: Jonathan Cape in the U.K. is reviving its fiction list, to be led by Annie Eaton, fiction publisher at Random House Children’s Books in the U.K. Eaton talked of Cape’s long tradition of publishing such authors as Roald Dahl and Joan Aiken, and said she hoped to publish some classic traditional stories in the 9-12 age range, “where you don’t need a mobile phone to sort out the plot.” She was meeting with a variety of publishers, including some French and German houses, “scouting around for some interesting translations.” Other news from the U.K. involved new nonfiction imprints: Bonnier is starting up Red Lemon, headed by Martina Challis, former publishing director at Kingfisher; and Egmont is launching Red Shed, to be run by Melissa Fairley.

Though he’s been in publishing for 30 years, agent Brian DeFiore took a table in the Agents’ Center for the first time. “I came almost entirely because of The 5th Wave,” he said – the Rick Yancey property he represents, which Penguin will launch in the U.S. and U.K. on May 7. Rights to the sci-fi trilogy, about a girl on the run after an alien invasion, have already been sold into 23 languages; DeFiore came to the fair so he could meet with those publishers and tell them about Penguin’s marketing plans. He said that coming to Bologna reminded him of the ways that “the children’s book market is different than the adult book market. The mood is a little friendlier, the whole community works together a little more closely. Also, it’s Italy – you go out at night for wine and pasta. What could be bad?”