The motto of this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which runs April 1–4, is “Staging Children’s Content.” Accordingly, the fair has two new halls in which to showcase exhibitors: halls 29 and 30, which were closed last year, have been completely rebuilt as part of a €138 million renovation at the fairgrounds. “The halls are huge and full of light,” says exhibition manager Elena Pasoli. “They will be a big surprise for visitors.”

The renovations have allowed the fair to create a new “mall” between the halls. This will accommodate the fair’s on-site bookstore, which will be expanded, and a lounge for booksellers, many of whom will be participating in the fair’s second International Children’s Booksellers Conference, cohosted by the Italian Association of Independent Children’s Bookshops, which takes place on Thursday, April 4.

In 2018, 27,642 visitors attended the fair—an increase of 6% over 2017—and that number is expected to jump again this year; 1,400 exhibitors are confirmed, with attendees coming from 80 different countries. Switzerland is the guest of honor and will be represented by 22 publishing houses and 26 illustrators, one for each of the 26 Swiss cantons (which are similar to states).

Among the many notable children’s book publishing figures speaking, exhibiting, or otherwise attending this year are Italian illustrator Beatrice Alemagna; Argentinian illustrator and publisher Diego Bianchi (known as Bianki); Lithuanian writer and illustrator Ke˛stutis Kasparavicˇius; authors Christopher Myers and Ruta Sepetys from the U.S.; Norwegian author Maria Parr; Klaas Verplancke from Belgium; Mingzhou Zhang, president of IBBY International; and others.

“I am personally excited to see Czech illustrator Peter Sís return,” Pasoli says. “He hasn’t been here for several years and he’s a favorite.”

Illustration: The Fair’s Beating Heart

Children’s book illustration is central to the fair again, and one can expect thousands of young illustrators to attend to show their work to publishers. To accommodate the throng, Bologna established the Illustrators Survival Corner three years ago. It has proved popular and is expanding again this year with a full roster of hands-on how-to events aiming to teach best practices to the next generation of illustrators, some of whom no doubt hope to eventually make it into the fair’s prestigious Illustrators Exhibition.

Nearly 3,000 illustrators, representing 62 countries, submitted work for this year’s exhibition. Of those, 76 artists were selected, from 27 countries and regions. Three illustrators will also have solo exhibitions: Russians Igor Oleynikov, who won the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2018, and Masha Titova, who provided this year’s illustrations for Bologna’s brand identity, as well as Croatian artist Vendi Vernic´.

In addition to this display, Bologna is honoring the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Award by hosting an exhibition of works by African-American illustrators called Black Books Matter, which is being offered in conjunction with the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Tex. “We won’t have the original works, but we will have scans,” Pasoli says. “It’s the first time we have had an exhibit like this focused on African-Americans. It is important now more than ever.”

Also echoing the social and political tenor of the times will be a panel discussion hosted by Maria Russo of the New York Times Book Review, focused on books that depict women’s roles in society. “We felt that it really was time to showcase books about women and their work, both inside and outside the home,” Pasoli says.

New Digital and Licensing Events

Bologna’s digital program has shifted to Hall 30, where the fair will stage The Kids Want Mobile, a conference for children’s app developers. The event, which was previously held in Berlin, has moved to Bologna for the first time, where it has proven popular: the 150 tickets sold out in two days, and more than 100 people are on the waiting list, Pasoli says. “This is a very big thing for us,” she adds. Speakers include Silvia Borando, editorial director of Italy’s Minibombo; Chris Lindgren, a play designer and UX researcher formerly with Sweden’s Toca Boca; and Valérie Touze, COO at Edoki Academy in France, among others.

This year’s Bologna Licensing Trade Fair, which happens concurrently with the book fair, will host a parade of popular children’s characters and a new exhibit called ArtLicensing, featuring home products, such as lamps and bedding, inspired by and adorned with illustrations from children’s books. “We asked consumer goods producers and connected them with some illustrators, who did prototypes,” Pasoli says. “It is a small but smart exhibit.”

Pasoli says she is feeling empowered by the new directions the fair is taking, including its explorations of timely themes and its partnerships with international exhibitions. “I think our work in China at the Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair, and in the United States with the New York Rights Fair, has brought us new audiences. People in both locations were very happy, and some new people are now coming to Bologna. This year, we are not missing any major publishers—we have many new ones—and some groups have expanded. We have, for example, bigger participation from Russian publishers. The mood is very positive. It’s going to be a great fair.”

For more of our pre-Bologna coverage, see Trends to Watch for at Bologna 2019.

This article was updated to identify the origins of the Black Books Matter exhibition.