Positive reviews from exhibitors continue to roll in on the second day of the China Shanghai Children’s International Book Fair (CCBF). “Very surprised”, “exceeded expectations” and “so busy” are phrases repeatedly used to describe the fair. For many, a return visit to the next CCBF is almost a done deal.

“While this fair cannot replace BIBF [Beijing International Book Fair], where our group promotes a wide range of books, it is certainly very worthwhile for children’s publishers to be here,” said HarperCollins U.K. group rights director Lucy Vanderbilt.

“I have seen many of our customers and met new potential partners, and we are looking forward to the next CCBF.” Last year, Vanderbilt’s team sold rights for 68 titles to Chinese publishers, most multi-book deals, such as Judith Kerr’s Mog series to Jieli Publishing, and eleven books by Michael Morpurgo to Beijing Double Spiral. “At this fair, much of the interest is on Michael Bond’s Paddington, The Hobbit movie tie-ins and Ted Dewan’s Bing,” added Vanderbilt.

Over at Penguin China, general manager Emily Wang enthused about her CCBF experience. “For the first time, at this inaugural fair, I am meeting with different players in the children’s segment—such as publishers, academicians, kindergarten owners, NGOs, early education specialists and librarians—who are working together to get children to read,” she said. That fits her goal, and the team is focused on promoting reading to children instead of selling rights [as at BIBF]. “Pre-schoolers are our target as they do not yet have a reading list from their schools, and their parents are eager to get them to read and cultivate the reading habit.” Imported English books, with comparatively higher prices, are selling much better nowadays despite limited sales channels, added Wang, pointing out that online retailers such as Amazon and Dangdang are helping to drive the sales. “Our local publishing activities, on the other hand, are focused on translations for those under the age of 8. Picture books sell well for this group but for the older children, they mostly want stories that they can identify with, such as on school life or stories about children in their age group. And this is where we partner with local authors to produce original works with a local context.” As for Penguin bestsellers, classics Peppa Pig and Peter Rabbit remain big in China.

Group rights and digital director Andrew Sharp of Hachette Children’s Books (U.K.)—a first-time visitor to China—finds the trip to be an eye-opener and CCBF a good event for business and networking. “We were not in Beijing because of CCBF: We find it better to have a dedicated children’s event for our titles. We have around 40 pre-arranged meetings for the first two days, and I am very surprised by the amount of walk-ons who are interested in our titles. In general, most publishers are looking for titles for children aged 7 and under, and for fiction.” China remains the biggest market for Hachette Children in terms of rights selling, with a mixed bag of front and backlists. “Obviously, the Chinese market is still going strong compared to other markets, and its children’s segment the brightest spot.” On the digital front, Hachette has collaborated with Peking University Press and digital company Moker to produce the 80-volume Start Reading series where e-books on CD-ROM are bundled with the printed volumes. As for plans for the next CCBF, Sharp said, “If the result coming out of this fair is as good as the conversations we have had, we would be mad not to return.”

For sales manager Alexis Chao of Scholastic China, the last-minute decision to participate at CCBF was a sound one. “We started out not expecting much of it and are amazed by the level of interest and visitors to our booth.” As to what is hot (or not) in China, Chao said that “Younger parents are more willing to invest in their children’s education nowadays and they are buying imported materials to boost their children’s English language proficiency. Our bestseller Harry Potter is now considered a children’s classic in China while Hunger Games continues to be popular with teens. Geronimo Stilton is, of course, selling very well here and all over Asia.” Boxed sets such as How Do Dinosaur series and Best of David Shannon Collection—printed and packaged in Asia, and imported into China—are doing better compared to five or six years ago. Klutz titles, which are considered too pricey for this market, are also becoming popular with parents, who are looking for how-to books with activities that can be enjoyed with their kids. “However, hardcovers are still no-go here. Parents invariably opt for paperbacks unless it is a novelty title, a book/toy pack or a book meant as a gift.”

Feedback from the 11 publishers exhibiting under the U.K. Pavilion will determine if next year’s event is on the cards, said Gloria Bailey, overseas trade fairs manager for The Publishers Association. “So far, I am taken aback by the number of visitors to this fair and how busy my exhibitors are with a mix of pre-arranged meetings and walk-ons. Some have reported scheduling meetings for tomorrow, which is a designated public day.” The business matchmaking session arranged by CCBF this morning has seen eight of the publishers taking part and all of them have made useful contacts. “Overall, this fair seems to be working for these companies especially first-timers to China such as Digital Leaf and Sweet Cherry Publishing. Personally, if I were the publisher, I would look into coming back to Shanghai again next year.”

President Jon Malinowski of the Combined Book Exhibit, on the other hand, is already discussing ways to help American publishers enter the Chinese market with the U.S. Commercial Service. Some ideas floated include a webinar prior to the fair to address concerns such as intellectual property rights and piracy, background checks on potential publishing partners and business matchmaking services. “As an inaugural fair, CCBF is a veritable success. I am encouraged by the number of Chinese publishers attending this fair and by their interest in U.S. publications. A strong foundation has certainly been laid for the next—and perhaps a bigger—event next year.”

CCBF 2014 will be held at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center from November 21 to 23. More information is available from the official Web site.