This year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair, running from March 26 to 29, will have more than 1,300 exhibitors. What they will find when they arrive is a fairground under construction: halls 29 and 30 have been dismantled, and their usual exhibitors have been moved to halls 21, 22, and 32.
“It was a challenge to move everyone, largely because the shape of the halls is different,” says Elena Pasoli, group product manager of the fair. “But it is only for one year.” She notes that halls 29 and 30 will reopen next year, which will again require another move. “It is a challenge for some publishers, but we really think they are going to love the new halls when they see them.”
The construction is likely a minor inconvenience in what looks to be an engaging program of conferences, exhibitions, award ceremonies, and events. New this year is the inaugural European Children’s Bookstores Conference, which will be held on March 29 and is expected to draw more than 100 booksellers from across the Continent and the U.K. Featured speakers include Julia Eccleshare, former children’s book editor at the Guardian, and Thierry Magnier, publisher and president of the Groupe Jeunesse of Syndicat National de l’Édition in France. “We want to create a space at the fair where booksellers are welcome, and our intention is, in the future, to extend this to include all international booksellers,” Pasoli says.
Other new events include a half-day conference covering audiobook publishing, with representatives from Audible, the Audio Publishers Association, Disney, and Storytel, among others. Another half day of panel discussions will be devoted to children’s books about art, architecture, and design, featuring Steven Guarnaccia, illustrator and professor at Parsons School of Design; Allyn Johnston, v-p and publisher of Beach Lane Books at Simon & Schuster; Silvana Sola, curator of the Children’s Books on Art project and professor of history of illustration at Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artistiche in Urbino, Italy; and others.
“One of the highlights for me this year will be the opportunity for the fair to mark the 65th anniversary of the New York Times Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year,” Pasoli says. The event will be celebrated with a speech by children’s book historian Leonard Marcus, as well as a pair of panels—one dedicated to editors and art directors, and another to illustrators—hosted by Maria Russo, children’s books editor of the New York Times.
As always, exhibitions of books and illustrations are highlights of this year’s event. One pavilion, situated between halls 21 and 22, will feature more than 200 works originally displayed in a church in downtown Bologna to mark Pope Francis’s visit to the city earlier this year. It is being presented under the title “Nurturing a Youthful Humanism” and will bring together books on topics including peace, war, refugees, migrants, and family.
Yet another exhibit will showcase more than 100 picture books related to the performing arts and movies, and it will be on display at the Cineteca film archive in the city’s center. The exhibition is an extension of the fair’s working relationship with Pitti Immagine Bimbo, the semiannual children’s fashion show, for which the books were initially curated. The idea behind the partnership is to help children’s illustrators craft relationships with fashion houses, who may commission or license illustrations for use in apparel designs.
China is this year’s guest of honor at the fair and will offer an exhibition of ancient Chinese illustrated books and some 3,000 current titles. The country will be represented by at least 100 exhibitors. “China is going to be a massive presence,” says Pasoli, who is also now working on the Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair, which was taken over by BolognaFiere in December last year.
Shanghai is just one of numerous international projects where Bologna is taking a lead, including the New York Rights Fair, which it is coproducing with Publishers Weekly. “It is part of our effort to bring the world together,” Pasoli says. “We’re no longer in a world where anywhere can be thought of as ‘developing’ markets. When it comes to children’s books at Bologna, we are all on a level playing field.”
To underscore this statement, Pasoli points to La Plage by Sol Undurraga, which was the 2018 winner of the Opera Prima Ragazzi Award (an award given to debut authors): “The author is Chilean, and the publisher [L’Agrume], who is French, discovered his work here at the fair in 2014 in the Illustrators Exhibition.” Pasoli added that Latin American publishers and illustrators were coming to the fair in increasing numbers each year. And Undurraga will be one of the featured guests taking part in a conference titled “Identity and Diversity in Latin American Illustration” on March 26.
Illustration, naturally, remains central to the proceedings at Bologna. Last year, the fair introduced a new feature, the Illustrators Survival Corner, a dedicated space for publishers to conduct portfolio reviews that offers programming catering specifically to young illustrators looking to get into the business. This year, that program is being expanded and is moving adjacent to the Digital Café in Hall 32.
“I think there is synergy there with the youth of many of the illustrators and the digital programming,” Pasoli says. To wit: the Digital Café will itself be hosting a new event, called the iDeasfest, which is showcasing digital projects from several university students in Italy, France, and the U.K.
Neal Hoskins, who programs the Digital Café, pointed out that interest in the digital side of children’s publishing is booming. “There was a five-fold increase in entrants for the Bologna Digital Ragazzi Awards this year,” he says. The Digital Café is adding a new professional lounge, which will itself be a staging area for several companies looking to license content and possibly develop it into television adaptations and AR/VR experiences. Among the marquee names on hand this year will be Apple, Google, and Netflix.
Licensing opportunities are becoming even more prominent at the fair. “The hall housing the Licensing Rights Fair is packed this year,” says Pasoli, who anticipates having to move the event to a larger space in 2019. Speaking of moving, she promises that although some people may feel inconvenienced by the changes, next year things will be better.
“I really think everyone will be impressed by what is being built on the fairgrounds,” Pasoli adds. “It is going to be a lot more open, there will be more light, better food, and overall, I think an even better experience, which is saying a lot because Bologna is already so great.”
This article has been updated to reflect that Amazon will not be participating in the Digital Cafe as we had initially reported.