The children’s book market was in the spotlight during the week of April 3 as the 2017 Bologna Children’s Book Fair took place April 3–5, and the fifth Children’s Institute was held April 5–7 in Portland, Ore.
“We are fully committed to doing what we can to help make our industry more inclusive and diverse,” said Oren Teicher, the American Booksellers Association CEO, in his opening remarks at the institute. That pledge followed a particularly lively town hall meeting at the ABA Winter Institute in Minneapolis in January, at which booksellers voiced their concerns about the lack of diversity on the ABA board and among booksellers in the room.
Starting with Ilsa Govan’s opening keynote, the 2017 institute focused primarily on these themes. Govan, a facilitator with Cultures Connecting and the author of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Strategies for Facilitating Conversations on Race, spoke on hiring and retaining a diverse workforce, even in a small store. Much of her talk centered on countering implicit bias, which can cause even well-intentioned people to act in a way that is not aligned with their values.
Despite his lack of sleep due to travel delays, keynote speaker Jason Reynolds was energetic as he called on booksellers to stock books that speak to everyone. A prolific author with several books due out later this year, including Long Way Down (Atheneum/Dlouhy, Oct.), Reynolds said that he stopped reading books at the age of nine. Instead, he listened to rap, read the liner notes, and wrote his own poems so that he could become the next Queen Latifah. He didn’t start reading books again until he went to college and took a job with Karibu Books in Washington, D.C. The store, which has since closed, was near his home and stocked African-American literature, urban fiction, and Harry Potter.
Although 12-year-old Marley Dias has access to books for black girls, she found the situation much more dire for young people who rely on school libraries. Last year Dias launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign to collect donated books about black girls, and she has received and distributed more than 9,000 copies to date. Speaking in conversation with Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, N.Y., Dias told booksellers that they need to connect more with schools and make more black girl books available, including those from self-published authors. In January, Scholastic will publish Dias’s guide for other children who want to follow their passions, Marley Dias Gets It Done (and So Can You!).
Many of the event’s educational sessions also focused on the need to make stores inclusive and to stock diverse books. At a session on fostering an inclusive environment for people with disabilities, Drew Sieplinga from Minneapolis’s Wild Rumpus noted that she has a disability and many disabilities aren’t obvious. “When you make a store accessible,” she added, “you make it better for everyone.”
The message of diversity was welcomed by the 240 booksellers in attendance from 160 bookstores, more than half of whom were first-timers.
Total attendance at Bologna was 26,743, an increase of 2% from 2016, fair officials reported. The gain was partly due to a 15% increase in overseas and foreign attendees, whose numbers reached 11,752.
Elena Pasoli, BCBF’s exhibition director, credited the fair’s focus on bringing in more international exhibitors for the upswing in foreign attendance. “We have worked hard to include even more countries,” she said, suggesting that the fair’s efforts to go further afield—touring its annual Illustrators Exhibition in Asia and running the annual Global Kids Connect conference with PW in New York City—were paying dividends in making the fair more relevant.
Several other factors likely contributed to the jump in overseas guests, including rebounding publishing markets in countries that had previously seen dips in exhibitors, such as Greece, Portugal, and Spain. A favorable exchange rate between the euro and other global currencies likely helped bolster the number of attendees from the Americas and Asia.
Forget a “book of the fair”: agents, publishers, and editors at Bologna didn’t really come to a consensus on whether this year’s event was bustling or tempered, a reminder that publishing isn’t one size fits all and that tastes, needs, and perspectives vary widely.
“I had a very good Bologna—definitely a case of ‘the right book at the right time,’ ” said agent Fiona Kenshole of Transatlantic Literary. “Editors—and film people—were asking for feel-good stories: happy endings, a smattering of romance. Perhaps a push back at all the other stuff going on in the world?”
Bent Agency founder Jenny Bent described this year’s Bologna as “a quiet fair overall.” She added: “[It] didn’t seem like there was one big project everyone was talking about. We had a lot of requests for middle grade, which was heartening, and it seemed like people were looking for the next big thing in YA, but no one was exactly sure what that was.”
One YA title that came up repeatedly in conversations was Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, a West African–inspired fantasy that sold to Henry Holt in a seven-figure preempt just before the fair. To date, British, Bulgarian, Danish, Dutch, French, Hebrew, Italian, and Spanish rights have sold, with auctions underway and offers under consideration in more than half a dozen other countries.
At least two houses launched YA lists at the fair: Kids Can Press in Toronto, whose KCP Loft list begins this spring, and Charlesbridge in the U.S., whose Charlesbridge Teen line arrives in the fall. “It’s been delightful to bring that to the worldwide market,” said Megan Quinn, Charlesbridge’s senior director of sales. “We can finally say that we’re for all ages now, zero through adult.” Kids Can rights director Adrienne Tang echoed Quinn’s sentiments, noting, “It’s been great for us to sell a different kind of book,” since Kids Can’s list had also focused on younger readers.
Echoing remarks made by Pasoli, Bologna-based publishing consultant Valentina Manchia observed that the fair has extended far beyond the confines of the exhibition halls and that its presence was felt throughout the town. “It’s very much a part of the fabric of our city year-round now.”