The Bologna Children’s Book Fair may be months away, but several international illustrators and children’s book experts recently gathered in New York City for a panel discussion about the storied history of the fair. The panel was held in conjunction with the exhibition “Artists and Masterpieces of Illustration—50 Illustrators’ Exhibitions, 1967–2016,” which is on display at the New York headquarters of the Society of Illustrators, where the panel was also held. The presenters were Elena Pasoli, exhibition manager of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair; Leonard S. Marcus, author and children’s literature historian; Paola Vassalli, curator of the exhibition; and illustrators Beatrice Alemagna, Chris Raschka, Etienne Delessert, and Stefano Imbert, who also served as Italian translator for the discussion. Maria Russo, children’s books editor of the New York Times Book Review, moderated the conversation. We’ve gathered a selection of highlights from the event.
First, Marcus spoke about the historical context of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which resulted from evolving ideas about children’s inherent value as “creative beings.” Marcus called Bologna “more than a rights fair. [Instead], a culture of the republic of children’s books.”
Vassalli expressed her joy in curating an exhibition in which “every artwork is respected.” She praised the many innovative illustrators (including Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer, Leo Lionni, and Bruno Munari), whose books lay the groundwork for the bridge to Bologna.
Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka spoke about his gratitude for the work of his fellow illustrators. He offered words of remembrance for his friend Vladimir Radunsky, who died earlier this year. After first viewing Radunsky’s illustrations for Samuel Marshak’s The Pup Grew Up (1989), “I knew I wanted to do children’s books,” Raschka said.
Alemagna commented, “I’m thrilled to see my work displayed, and honored to sit next to Etienne. He’s my hero; I grew up with his books.” She also spoke about the novelty of being in New York City and having the chance to “listen [to a new perspective] on Bologna.”
Finally, Delessert spoke fondly of the early days of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, expressing that the fair serves as “a witness to time passing.” Citing the chaos of current international events, Delessert suggested that children’s books and Bologna offer “hope for a better world.”