Elena Pasoli, Bologna’s program director, emphasizes that this year the Bologna Children's Book Fair will see more exhibitors than ever from a greater number of countries around the world, this is despite the reluctance of some publishers to travel due to the potential for a Covid-19 resurgence and the war in Ukraine, this is in no way a “minor” fair. “We expect it will have the excitement and energy it always has,” she says, noting that the fair will have exhibitors from 85 countries. Among English-speaking countries, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand will all have collective stands. “There are more publishers coming from Latin America than we initially anticipated,” Pasoli adds, “and from Asia, we have publishers from Indonesia, Korea, and Taiwan.”
One country that is unlikely to have representatives in Bologna is China. The Shanghai Children’s International Book Fair moved from November 2021 and was rescheduled to overlap with Bologna this year, but it has since been rescheduled again for July 22–24. Russia’s national collective stand has also been banned from the fair following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, though Pasoli says Bologna will welcome independent Russian publishers—those not affiliated with the government—should they be able to travel. To assist and show support for Ukrainian publishers, the fair is offering an exhibition focused on Ukrainian books, with titles chosen from among those submitted to the BolognaRagazzi Award over the past years. International publishers attending the fair have also been asked to bring along Ukrainian books translated and published in their own countries.
The Guest of Honor this year is the United Arab Emirate of Sharjah. Sharjah was UNESCO World Book Capital 2019–2020 and was originally scheduled to participate in the fair in 2020, before it was canceled. More than 30 Arab writers, illustrators, artists, and storytellers will be showcased in a series of events, including two exhibitions: one featuring Arabic publishing and illustration called Insight, Reflect, and a second exhibiting books from the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature competition.
A special program will also focus, for the first time at Bologna, exclusively on books and publishing from Africa. “The program was born out of the passion of Bodour al Quasimi of the International Publishers Association, who offered assistance and sponsorship from the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund,” Pasoli says. A dedicated exhibition area will host publishing professionals from several countries, including Benin, Ethiopia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe. “We are particularly excited to feature books in Indigenous languages and discuss about how children’s publishing goes a long way to helping preserve Indigenous languages,” Pasoli adds.
Swaady Martin, of Loving Kindness Boma, Côte d'Ivoire, said in an interview, "The state of the publishing industry in Africa is as diverse as the number of countries on the continent. Cultural differences of religion, language, and customs, socio-economic development, literacy, infrastructure and the relationship with the former colonizer create different sets of challenges and opportunities. For example, 9 of the least literate countries in the world are in Africa (the least literate is Chad: 22%) but some of the most literate countries in the world are also in Africa (Seychelles, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa ~95%). While Equatorial Guinea and South Africa have similar high literacy rates, access to books in these two markets is very different. While South Africa has the most developed book distribution network in Africa, there is almost no book distribution network in Equatorial Guinea."
Sandra Tamele, founder and editor of Editora Trinta Zero Nove, Mozambique, who is participating in the program, said in an interview, "In the last two years, we have seen the emergence of young independent publishers, such as ETZN, eager to engage with the digital age and make books more affordable and appealing, bringing them closer to the homes of potential readers. And children and young adults make up the vast majority of these readers."
The whole "Spotlight on Africa" program can be seen here.