It was mostly sunny throughout the seventh edition of the China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF), which concluded its three-day run on November 17. The mood of the exhibitors and visitors was equally sunny and positive. And the same could be said for event co-organizer BolognaFiere, which was back for its second outing with a more ambitious (and successful) agenda.
This year’s event, covering 25,000 square meters, saw an increase of 38% in floor space over the previous year. Two special exhibitions—“Children + Art, Architecture and Design” and “Pop-Up Show: The Magic Inside Books”—were introduced alongside staple BolognaFiere lounges and zones such as the BOP-Bologna Prize Lounge, Illustrators Survival Corner, Literary Agents Centre, and Digital Hub.
Two major events associated with CCBF since its inaugural 2013 edition—namely, the Chen Bochui International Children’s Literature Award and the Golden Pinwheel Young Illustrators Competition—once again lauded outstanding works in each of the categories. The Best International Picture Book awards went to Bai Bing’s The Flight of a Bullet, Guo Zhenyuan’s Don’t Let the Sun Fall Down, Andrea Antinori’s The Great Battle, John Canty’s Heads and Tails: Insects, and Roger Mello’s Enreduana. Illustrators Guilherme Karsten (Brazil) and Gui Tuzi (China) won the Golden Pinwheel Grand Awards for their works Aaahhh! and Big Boat, respectively. (Author Bai Bing is also the editor-in-chief of Jieli Publishing House, which introduced Bear Grylls, Norman Messenger, Goosebumps, and I Spy, among others,, to China.)
Then there was the Shanghai Visiting International Publishers Programme, Asia’s first fellowship program dedicated to children’s publishing. Out of the 165 applications from 56 countries and territories—the highest number received over the past seven years—11 representatives were chosen from small and medium independent children’s publishers from Australia, Denmark, France, India, Iran, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Ukraine, and the U.S. Aside from attending and participating in professional programs during their six-day stay, the fellows also visited several major publishing houses and bookstores in the city to better understand the Chinese children’s book market.
One of the fellows was senior editor Nick Thomas from New York-based Levine Querido. “I am very fortunate to be a part of this diverse group that is bound by our passion for books,” Thomas told PW. “The level of care, thoughtful agenda, and choice of fellows are phenomenal.” Thomas, who is also looking to buy original Chinese content at CCBF, was amazed by the country’s strong reading culture and talents. “There is only so much one can learn from a distance or online. So coming here—to this fair and this country for the first time, and being a part of SHVIP—has afforded me some perspectives on the Chinese book market. But this being such a big market, I have barely scratched the surface.”
To be sure, the Chinese children’s book market is immense (with 370 million people under the age of 18) and it continues to expand (prodded along by the 17.5 million babies born annually). According to OpenBook, a clearinghouse for publishing statistics in China, as of September this year, the children’s book segment accounted for 26.1% of the total Chinese book market. This continuous expansion, from 8.5% in 1999 to 25.4% in 2018, was the siren song that lured some 400 exhibitors—of which 30% were first-timers—to participate in CCBF. Overall, the three biggest categories are children’s literature, comics, and reference titles while the fastest-growing ones are English language learning books and pop-science publications.
In less fortunate news, the number of new children’s titles entering the market between January and September of this year has shrunk by 13.88%, hitting 19,918 titles. That represents a large drop from the high of 30,940 new titles in 2018. This was partly due to the tightening of ISBN issuance in recent months. But director-general Xu Jiong of Shanghai Press and Publication Administration (which is the main sponsor of CCBF) stressed that “the restriction is not about making life difficult for publishers, local or overseas. It is about forcing Chinese publishers to rethink their publishing program and direction so that they make more deliberate choices on new titles and measured decisions on new editions and reprints. For publishers wanting to introduce new titles that plug market gaps and provide readers with much needed cultural diversity, their ISBN application process will be quick and painless.”
Translations remain high, accounting for 36.11% of all new titles released in the first nine months of the year. The U.K. and U.S. continue to be the two biggest sources of translated titles. E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window, and Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You are now generational sellers. OpenBook also stated that current children’s bestsellers were mostly published at least three years ago.
On the ground, there was no shortage of big names gracing CCBF with their presence. Cao Wenxuan—the first Chinese author to receive the Hans Christian Andersen Award (in 2016) and considered the standard-bearer for Chinese children’s literature locally and internationally—even had his own pavilion at the fair. Also spotted at the fair were Wu Meizhen, who was mobbed by fans of her middle-grade and YA series; author-illustrator Dav Pilkey of Dog Man and Captain Underpants fame; David Macaulay, author of such bestsellers as The Way Things Work; and Igor Oleinikov, illustrator of The Ballad of a Small Tugboat and the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award winner.
Next year’s CCBF will be held November 13–15, 2020.