This was my first Bologna Book Fair—I am an illustrator based in New York and it has been my dream to go since I first found out about the fair’s existence 20 years ago. The fair ran from last Monday until Thursday afternoon, and, when I arrived on Monday, everyone everywhere is talking about books: the guy checking me into my Airbnb, people on the bus; later my friends told me that their whole planes—from Moscow, New York, Barcelona—were full of people talking about the fair.

The fair itself was massive—six giant exhibition halls—the publishers there are from around the world—big countries and small nestled next to each other. I really wanted to see book trends from places far away from New York, and I fell in love with Korean and Portuguese books—beautifully and strangely illustrated stories.

On the second day, I ran into my friend Sandra Jávera, a Brazilian illustrator who also lives in New York—I didn’t know she would be there and it was a joy to see a familiar face in the crowd. We exchanged our plans for the day and rushed off—we would run into each other three more times in the coming days.

There were people at the fair I was meant to see, but hadn’t made concrete plans with. I ran into all of them in a span of three minutes standing in a particular hallway. There was a feeling of jubilation—of the excitement of being around people who all love the same thing you love: books. People were reading in every corner.

People were also making deals. I heard of someone making a seven-figure book deal. I was in a group when we heard of this, and everyone was momentarily hushed.

My Swedish friend Helena Bergendahl and I agreed to meet at the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award—a Swedish children’s literature achievement prize second only to the Nobel in financial award—there’s that frisson of financial excitement again. It was packed and I didn’t find her, but I did sit next to a nice man who turned out to be one of this year’s nominees (there were 256 people up for the prize). I looked around and wondered if most of those people were also nominees. Unfortunately, my new friend did not turn out to be the winner.

I spent most of the third day looking at the illustration show and admiring the promo walls, where students and professionals from all over tacked their postcards, posters, business cards—so much beautiful work and so many people looking at it.

There were also portfolio reviews happening all over the place. It really was a nourishing environment for the artists, as well as booksellers and buyers.

At times the fair began to be too much, but luckily there were gelato stands and periodically I hid in a corner with a cone of yogurt-orange gelato: the clear flavor winner of this year’s fair.

There were so many things happening outside the exhibit halls that I only figured out a few days into the fair—dinners, exhibits, parties, meetings—and, honestly, I am glad not to have known about them before. Already I had been falling into bed exhausted every night, but armed with business cards, postcards, maps, guides, new books, and new publishers to watch for. I am looking forward to coming back next year—with a plan—no longer a newbie!

Dasha Tolstikova is a New York City-based author and illustrator. Her next book, The Chair, is due out in fall 2020 from Groundwood Books. You can find Tolstikova's other work on her website.