The 53rd Bologna Children’s Book Fair opened on Monday morning, April 4, with publishers, agents, and other attendees reporting brisk traffic and full slates of meetings. The show’s close proximity to next week’s London Book Fair seems be having little impact on business.
“Monday was really busy, a lot of traffic,” said Joya Anthony, associate manager of subsidiary rights at Chronicle Books. “People are looking for positive, lighthearted books, and concepts that are simple.” Anthony heads to London on Friday, and said, “There was a lot of overlap in preparation. The good thing is that since we’re so far away in San Francisco, it makes it more efficient [to stay in Europe between the fairs]. This is my first time doing back-to-back international fairs.”
Suzanne Murphy, at Bologna for the first time in her role as president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, was traveling to Venice later this week before continuing on to the London fair. “It’s nice to be back in the endless rounds of half-hour appointments,” she said, adding that her experience at Disney had “definitely given her more of a global perspective.” And with the recent acquisition of Harlequin, “we now have all these regional offices around the world” that she is hoping to work with more closely.
“The traffic has been excellent,” said Rosanne McManus, v-p and associate publisher at Studio Fun International, which focuses on licensed and book-plus products. McManus noted that while “some years are more about TV,” 2016 is shaping up to be a “big movie year” as Studio Fun rolls out products tied to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many of which could not be released until after the movie opened. StudioFun is also gearing up for the November release of Trolls, an animated film from DreamWorks, out in November and based on the furry-haired dolls popular in the 1980s and 1990s. “I think we did a troll book 25 years ago,” said McManus. “These ones are much cuter.”
“We seem to be seeing more and more film people,” said agent Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency, perhaps a sign of “big movie years” yet to come. “I think it’s part of everyone wanting to see or hear about things as early as possible.”
At Sourcebooks, editorial director Steve Geck also had a busy Monday, focusing on acquisitions, from board books up through young adult titles. “I had a Spanish publisher showing me a line of board books, and we’ve seen some self-publishers walking around with some really good stuff,” he said. “We’ve heard there’s a need in the market [for more board books], so that’s a real area of growth for us.”
Erin Stein, publisher of Macmillan’s imprint Imprint, was at the fair for the first time in her current role, and was spending time both introducing her new list to prospective publishers and looking for titles to acquire. “It’s a very collegial show with a good atmosphere, and it’s been great to see our foreign counterparts,” said Stein, who was on the hunt for commercial middle-grade fiction that “stands out and feels fresh.” One of her own middle-grade series—Super Happy Party Bears by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Steve James, with two books arriving in September—had been attracting early attention, along with a young adult novel, The Ones, by first-time YA author Daniel Sweren-Becker.
Frédéric Gauthier of Québec-based La Pastèque, described Monday’s business as “very, very good.” An 18-year-old publisher, La Pastèque mainly published graphic novels for its first 15 years before moving into picture books, often ones that push the boundaries of the format, especially in terms of length; recent books include The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc, published in the U.S. by Enchanted Lion in 2014, and Isabelle Arsenault’s Alpha (Candlewick, 2015). Gauthier said that while foreign publishers were initially hesitant about whether these kinds of more experimental, long-form picture books would work in their home markets, a few early adopters paved the way for more takers. “People have been more at ease with the approach and willing to take a risk.”
While there is still time for trends to take shape over the next few days of the fair, agent Taryn Fagerness of the Taryn Fagerness Agency suggested that we might still be “between trends,” with international publishers seeking a variety of books to fill the needs of their lists. “People still want contemporary, and that’s what I’m selling,” she said, adding that they are also willing to say “maybe” to fantasy or other genres. One title Fagerness was focusing on is Jennifer Armentrout’s The Problem with Forever, out in May in the U.S. from Harlequin Teen. She sold several foreign rights deals for the book before the fair, but noted, “To be able to verbally pitch the books makes a huge difference. Bologna is always going to matter.”
Several awards were announced during or after the fair on Monday, including the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award and the BOP Prize, awarded to innovative children’s publishers in six global regions. This year’s BOP winners were Bumble Books from the Republic of South Africa, Kalimat from the United Arab Emirates, Andersen Press in the U.K., Canada’s Groundwood Books, Venezuela’s Ediciones Ekaré, and Book Island from New Zealand.