First impressions count, and on the first day of the Shanghai Children’s International Book Fair (CCBF), the heavy foot traffic just one hour into its opening bodes well for the inaugural event. For overseas exhibitors not sure what to expect from CCBF, seeing the long queues at the entrance of ShanghaiMart Exhibition Center and the packed registration counters in the morning is a major relief. The day’s first two events – a roundtable on children’s books and an analysis on China’s children’s retail market – were overbooked, with many left standing at the back of the meeting rooms, further boosting confidence in the new fair.

Big U.S. and U.K. names, mostly with China-based office in Beijing or Shanghai (or both), are here for the three-day event, running from November 7 to November 9. Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House, Hachette Children's, Scholastic and their more education-based counterparts Pearson, Oxford University Press, McGraw-Hill and Cengage add much-needed clout to the untested fair.

Still, questions swirl about CCBF: Is this fair too much too soon after the Beijing International Book Fair, which was held at the end of August? Will the same BIBF audience appear at this fair, thus making CCBF ineffective in generating new contacts and sales leads? Will publishers from other parts of China come to the fair, or will it be mostly a Shanghai-based audience? Will the two trade days ensure a flow of “quality” targets for the exhibitors? Speculations run rife.

Five hours into the fair, chats with several international exhibitors supply some answers, with many already looking forward to the next CCBF.

Paul Skaj, v-p of sales and marketing of Minnesota-based ABDO, exhibiting under the New Title Showcase (a partnership between Reed Exhibitions and the Combined Book Exhibit), met with a dozen Chinese publishers before the clock hit 4 p.m. “This is the first time we exhibited in China and it is our first foray into the Chinese market—and so far so good. Most of the publishers I met with are looking for really low-level titles, and this fits nicely with our pre-K-to-12 publishing program. For this fair, I bring around 100 titles, all carefully selected from the 4,000 titles in our catalogue.” Skaj currently works with two rights agencies to promote ABDO titles in China but “would consider going direct in the near future if it works better for the publishers to have direct access to our list and resources.”

For director-general Jean-Guy Boin of BIEF (Bureau International de l’Edition Française), which is responsible for the promotion of French books abroad, this fair is about evaluation and determining the differences between the Beijing and Shanghai fairs for the France Pavilion. “Last year, we sold a total of 1,100 titles to China, out of which 700, or 63%, are children’s titles. So the children’s segment is big for us, and it is impractical for our children’s publishers to attend both BIBF and CCBF. While it is too early to say anything for certain, this morning has been very busy for us. Around 25 publishers and many librarians—from different parts of China—have dropped by our pavilion. They are impressed by the diversity and quality of our exhibit, where 34 publishers, big and small, with a total of 400 titles are represented.” However, Boin wishes that the timing of the fair could be a bit better as it is too close to the Guadalajara and Non/Fiction fairs, in Mexico and Moscow respectively.

Over at Kyowon, Korea’s major children’s book publisher, the small exhibition hall (compared to BIBF) did not inspire much confidence at first. “But we met with 10 publishers within the first few hours, and half of them are new leads. We find ourselves having more time at CCBF to talk about our publishing program, to introduce both new titles and back list. At BIBF, there were so many meetings it was hard to go beyond new title presentation. So it is great having the extra time to interact with these publishers, better understand their program and find the fit between our publications and their list,” says international rights manager Park Soo-young, whose team sold 70 titles to China last year. Shanghai publishers, he adds, seem to be more interested in classics with warm colors and nice illustrations whereas Beijing publishers tend to go for educational-based titles on mathematics, science and even the environment. “Sales-wise, Shanghai publishers mostly promote their titles through libraries and kindergartens. This is totally different in Beijing where most publishers prefer to push titles through bookstore chains and online retailers.”

CCBF gave founders Neil Jeffries and Dustin Brooks of London-based Digital Leaf a nice surprise this afternoon when it was announced that their title, Oh, What a Tangle! by Anita Pouroulis, is among the 20 nominated for the Golden Pinwheel Award for best original picture book. “To have this happening on our first fair in China—and our first visit as well—is unbelievable,” says Jeffries, adding that neither he nor Brooks has publishing background but decided to pool their talents (in digital media and illustration, respectively) to create a new publishing company. “CCBF would be a great place to launch a new title and give away copies to create a buzz. We will consider doing that on our next visit,” says Brooks, pointing out that the company’s latest, Jon Lycett-Smith’s Moo!, is the hottest title among the nine that are displayed at the booth.

Jon Malinowski, v-p at Combined Book Exhibit, finds the CCBF business matchmaking session both interesting and productive. “There are about 14 publishers there and I met with eight of them. Many are interested in the Adventures of Bella & Harry series. Perhaps the author and illustrator of Bella and Harry LLC can team up with a Chinese publishing partner to co-produce titles on major cities in China such as Beijing and Shanghai, or work on some translation deals. There are certainly many opportunities for co-publishing and rights-selling in the vast Chinese market with 230 million children under the age of 16.”