Sunny and positive was the general mood at the seventh edition of the China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF), which kickstarted its three-day run on November 15. Exhibitors—new and seasoned—were buoyed by a general perception of a booming Chinese children’s book market keen to buy rights and try new ideas.

This optimism was given further credence by the conference’s first program, which was hosted by OpenBook, a clearinghouse for publishing statistics in China. Charts and figures for the first nine months of 2019, provided by executive v-p Yang Lei, pointed to a segment that now accounts for 26.1% of the total Chinese book market. Its continuous expansion, from 8.5% in 1999 to 25.4% in 2018, was music to many ears in the packed conference room.

The number of new titles entering the market, however, has dropped by more than 13%, to 19,918 titles, during the January-September period. This speaks to the tight control exerted by most major publishing houses to decrease their output in order to “cool down” the fast-expanding children’s book segment. Meanwhile, translations remain high, accounting for more than 35% of the new titles released in the first nine months, and the U.K. and U.S. continue to be the two biggest sources of translated titles. Translations such as 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 becoming generational sellers. According to Lei, current children’s bestsellers were mostly published at least three years ago.

For Xu Jiong, director-general of the Shanghai Press and Publication Administration—the main sponsor of the fair—the segment growth and general market optimism are fueling the aspiration to have a much bigger event that will eventually see one level of the exhibition center dedicated to professional visitors and rights-buying activities and the upper level for the public and retail. “This second outing with co-organizer BolognaFiere has seen a 30% growth in overseas exhibitors and a bigger presence of rights agencies—which are the two things we wanted to achieve through BolognaFiere’s experience, resources, and brand strength,” said Xu, who wants to see CCBF evolve to become an indispensable international platform for publishing exchanges and rights trading as well as a signature book event in the East.

Xu is also focused on “getting more domestic publishers with quality content and proven expertise to participate in CCBF, which will, in turn, make the event more attractive to overseas exhibitors who are not just looking to sell rights but are also increasingly seeking Chinese originals for their domestic markets. We want to make this fair a win-win event for both sides.”

Two hours into its opening, most booths in the international section were crowded. First-time CCBF exhibitors such as Adamada (Poland), Barefoot Books (U.S.), Ditty Bird (Australia), and Ruby Tuesday (U.K.), for instance, were here along with seasoned exhibitors such as Hachette, Highlights for Children, Nosy Crow, and Scholastic.

An estimated 400 exhibitors will be at the fair with offerings that range from picture books to nonfiction illustrated titles, and from baby books to STEM series, and with musical boardbooks and videos/apps somewhere in between. And this goes to prove Xu’s point that “exhibitors to CCBF will be pleasantly surprised by the passion for books and education coming from Chinese publishers, parents and teachers, and by their acceptance of different ideas and content formats.”

On the second day of the fair, at least two major names are expected to turn up for book launches and meet fans: author Dav Pilkey (of the Captain Underpants and Dog Man series) and illustrator Igor Oleinikov (2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award winner). Oleinikov illustrated The Ballad of a Small Tugboat, which has recently been translated into Simplified Chinese by Beijing Dandelion Book House (which introduced The Magic School Bus, Maurice Sendak titles, and Mizielinska and Mizielinski’s Maps to China).