The 56th annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair got off to a dynamic start on Monday, April 1, as publishing professionals from around the globe gathered in Italy to share new projects, forge connections, and celebrate young people’s literature.

If the general atmosphere of the fair has felt different than that of previous years, some of that shift is owing to physical changes in the exhibition space. Many of the attendees PW spoke with commented on the redesigned halls 29 and 30, which were demolished last year, and have been rebuilt as part of a €138 million renovation at the fairgrounds. Nopi Chatzigeorgiou, coordinator of the Thessaloniki Book Fair, praised the rebuilt Hall 29, saying, “It is airy and much brighter.” Renata Zamida, director of the Slovenian Book Agency, agreed, saying, “It is very white and fresh.” However, both expressed their preference for their location last year, where they were located closer to the entrance and there were more windows. For her part, Hallie Warshaw, publisher and creative director of Zest Books (now owned by Lerner), pronounced the new halls “really beautiful,” adding, “It makes all the books instantly look more interesting."

Empowering Stories

The reverberations of the #MeToo movement are still being felt in the children’s world. Leading up to Bologna, Mia Roman, foreign rights associate at New Leaf Literary & Media, told PW, “Publishers are actively looking for feminist themes and characters, and that has manifested in fantasy and sci-fi as well”—an observation many fairgoers echoed on opening day.

Miriam Gabbai, founder of Callis Editora, a Brazilian children’s publisher, remarked that books with strong female characters—particularly those overcoming obstacles—remain in high demand. “Empowering women is a strong theme,” she said. Gabbai stated that Callis has had a history of publishing such titles, a fact that has helped generate foreign rights interest in her new and backlist titles.

Author Krisin Ragna Gunnarsdottir and Marta Hlin Magnadottir, publisher of Bokabeitan in Iceland, also noted a rise in girl-centric narratives. Bokabeitan has published a series of books, Wolf and Edda, which refashion the Icelandic Sagas in such a way as to put women characters at the forefront. “It suits the times,” Magnadottir said. Both Gunnarsdottir and Magnadottir said that there also seemed to be a renewed interested in Nordic myths in general. They attributed this trend to the popularity of Game of Thrones and Neil Gaiman’s recent bestseller Norse Mythology (Norton, 2017).

Zamida of the Slovenian Book Agency saw a similar desire for female-driven stories. She noted, “Another theme a lot of publishers are asking us about is books about a person who is disabled or impaired, or books in an accessible format.”

The Thrill of the Chase

One YA trend that emerged at last year’s Bologna was an uptick in teen thrillers, fueled in part by the international success of Karen McManus’s novels One of Us Is Lying and Two Can Keep a Secret (Delacorte) and comp titles including All of This Is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor (HarperTeen).

Thrillers continue to be in demand this year as well. Sourcebooks’ editorial director Steve Geck, who called the fair “very busy,” said he’d seen a number of interesting projects. “I’ve especially seen a lot of thrillers so far,” he said, “and we do very well in that category.”

Netflix as Trendsetter

After the Netflix success of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the quest for content that will translate across media, especially online streaming platforms, is moving the needle in terms of YA trends. Curtis Brown agent Ginger Clark was one of many who cited the presence of Netflix at this year’s fair. “The brand that has been mentioned the most in my meetings is Netflix,” she said. “People are saying Netflix is really affecting children’s publishing, not only in how much is being optioned and made, but also in how it’s influencing what people want in YA.” Clark said, “I am seeing more requests for YA romance and YA romantic comedy than in years past, and I believe that is because of the success of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” She added, “In my first meeting on Tuesday, a Polish editor said that she wanted YA that was like what Netflix is doing.”

Global Connections

The Bologna Book Fair is expanding its international partnerships beyond those it already has with the Shanghai International Book Fair and the New York Rights Fair, and on Monday announced a new collaboration with the Moscow International Book Fair. The goal is to launch a Russian International Children’s Book Fair in 2021. To help get things rolling, this year’s Moscow International Book Fair, which runs September 4–8, will host a fellowship program for children’s publishers and a program of events for children, dubbed “Children’s Book on Stage.” In 2020 the MIBF will also host the IBBY International Congress.

Meanwhile, in an effort to raise awareness of global issues among young readers, the International Publishers Association has partnered with the United Nations to launch a book club for children ages six to 12, focusing on books relating to the UN’s 17 different sustainable development goals. As part of the project, the SDG Book Club—also known as the Sustainable Development Goals Book Club—will release a selection of new titles each month related to one of the goals, to be offered in the six official languages of the UN: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

Two global summits were held for top-selling authors at the fair this year, gathering international partners together for discussion and community-building. Scholastic hosted its first Dog Man Global Summit, with publishers from 20 countries in attendance, including Brazil, Italy, India, Japan, and China; they all shared their success stories with Pilkey’s mega-selling graphic novel series. And Curtis Brown UK agent Roxane Edouard held a Treehouse Summit for the bestselling Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton, published around the world by Macmillan. The summit, which featured an appearance by Griffiths, allowed his publishers from around the world to hear marketing strategies and share ideas.

Diversity Matters

U.S. publishers aren’t alone in championing the We Need Diverse Books movement and its mission of promoting more inclusive stories for young readers. Sarah Odedina, former publishing director of children’s books at Bloomsbury and Hot Key, announced a new partnership with Ghana-based publisher Deborah Ahenkorah, which aims to discover, mentor, and publish writers based in Africa. Ahenkorah, who founded the Golden Baobab Prize for African writers and illustrators, and who has recently launched a publishing house, African Bureau Stories, will pool her talents with Odedina’s to work with writers and help develop their stories, so that tales about modern African life can be published and sold abroad as well as in Africa.

“Adult fiction has seen a little of this,” Ahenkorah said, “but there’s a complete lack of books for children from the African continent.” Their goal is to “create pathways to readers outside of Africa,” she said; they hope to publish six to eight books per year, beginning in 2021, initially through Pushkin Press in the U.K., where Odedina is editor at large. And they were heartened by the number of American and European publishers who have expressed interest in their plans and asked to be kept posted.

New Endeavors

Not for the first time, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is ushering in a new chapter for editor Arthur A. Levine. At the 1997 edition of the fair, Levine discovered—and fell in love with—a manuscript from Bloomsbury U.K., written by then unknown author J.K. Rowling. After 23 years at Scholastic, where he published Rowling’s Harry Potter books among other internationally acclaimed titles, Levine has exited the company to start an independent publishing venture. His new company now has a name. Levine kicked off this year’s Bologna Fair with an official announcement of Levine Querido, marking a partnership with renowned Dutch publisher Querido.

Founder, president, and editor-in-chief Levine told PW at the celebratory kickoff, “This represents the kind of collaboration that makes getting the best books of the world to American readers possible. It’s something I believe in deeply.” Levine Querido will entail two lists. According to Levine, the Arthur A. Levine list will “center on diversity, ideally with a mix of 75% minority creators, including people of color, Indigenous people, and LGBTQ individuals.” Levine tentatively plans to launch in fall 2020, with a debut list of 20 U.S. titles.

In addition, the Em Querido list will feature translations of a selection of the Dutch publisher’s titles, while also including authors and artists from around the world. The Em Querido list will start with five books per year, and later grow to 10. Formed in 1915, Querido specializes in picture books and fiction for all ages, publishing 50 to 60 new children’s books annually. Named after Dutch-Jewish publisher Emanuel Querido, the list predominantly consists of Dutch and Flemish authors.

Another new venture was announced on the eve of the fair: the first children’s list from HarperCollins Italia, headed by editorial director Sabrina Annoni. The list will consist of 25 titles starting in 2019, with plans to grow to 100 books a year. Annoni called the first day of the fair “very lively,” saying that the announcement of her new list “raised a lot of interest from agents and publishers and the whole publishing community, including many Italian authors that we are meeting here.”

Albert Whitman Turns 100

Celebrating a different milestone, Illinois-based indie publisher Albert Whitman & Company toasted its 100th anniversary at the fair. The company is perhaps best known for publishing the Boxcar Children mystery series, which continues to go strong. Owners Patrick McPartland and John Quattrocchi joined publishing director Sue Tarsky in welcoming visitors to the booth for a celebratory glass of prosecco on Monday night. Tarsky said of Whitman’s longevity, “It’s a publisher’s dream.”