The 59th edition of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair closed yesterday, along with the Bologna Licensing Trade Fair/Kids and the first in-person BolognaBookPlus – BBPlus, created in collaboration with the Association of Italian Publishers. The event was held for the first time in three years, evoking pre-pandemic times and reviving a vital and vibrant industry event.

A total of 1,070 exhibitors from 90 different countries were in attendance, the largest variety of countries ever for the fair. A total of 21,432 people attended, with more than 40% from abroad. “We had about 75% of the usual number of attendees, which is extraordinary considering we only announced we were officially doing the fair in January,” said a visibly excited Elena Pasoli, program manager for the fair. “We’re just delighted to have everyone back in Bologna.”

The majority of visitors came from across Europe, including France, Germany, the U.K., and even Ukraine, whose colors and flag, as well as messages of support, were prominently displayed all over the fai grounds. Fear of Covid-19 prevented some American publishers from attending, but among those who did make the trip, nearly all were overwhelmed with how busy they were. “It’s just been non-stop, wall-to-wall meetings for me,” said Dirk Wood, director of international sales and licensing for Image Comics, confirming what many people said was the story of the fair: the boom in the sale of comics and graphic novels around the world and the huge appetite for new titles.

Among the highlights were talks by two Israeli authors. On Tuesday, March 22, Etgar Keret offered a lecture on the topic of "What stories can you tell in times of war?," organized by the Conference of International Book Fair Directors to show support for Ukraine. Then, on Wednesday, March 23, Yuval Noah Harari announced a new four-book series for pre-teens. The first title, Unstoppable Us: How Humans Took Over the World, illustrated by Ricard Zaplana Ruiz, will be published this fall in 25 countries. Harari also gave a speech for the public in a city center.

Guest of honor Sharjah made a case for the Middle East as an underserved and often overlooked creative hotbed and offered a range of exhibits, from illustrations, to Indigenous handicrafts, to numerous professional presentations from Emirati publishing personalities, These included several chaired by Bodour al Qasimi, daughter of the ruler of Sharjah and current president of the International Publishers Association, who reminded audiences that she initially founded her publishing house Kalimat because she could not find books for her own children that featured characters that looked like them.

The next region of the world that many in the industry are looking to lift-up and support is Africa, a daunting task as it has 54 countries. This year, Bologna sponsored more than a dozen African publishers, from countries including Kenya, Mozambique, and Nigeria, to attend the fair for the first time.

Among the other first-timers were Adriana Roca and Nicholas Rodriguez, co-owners of Pichoncito, a children’s publishing house in Lima, Peru. The couple, who had been married in Bologna more than a decade ago, were looking for titles to help them expand from picture books into young adult books and comics. “Bologna reflects a truly globalized and dynamic industry with small players co-existing with the large consortiums and where traditional format and cutting edge new media are intertwining in unexpected ways,” said Roca.

Arthur Levine of Levine Querido called the atmosphere "memorably special” and said both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine made it all the more important for everyone to be back together. “In all my over 30 years coming to the fair I've never experienced it as primarily a place to sign off on deals, but it's always been a place where we can communicate our excitement about books that we love, and believe our colleagues will want to share. And this always results in deals after people have a chance to read the books for themselves,” Levine said. “This Bologna was as fine an example of this process as any I've been to. It was a joy for me to be with my colleagues at Querido Netherlands; to share food, literary reconnaissance, and an occasional much needed laugh.”

For those who could not attend, the fair also offered virtual events. During the fair, the Bologna website drew more than two million views; 200,000 unique users signed on (61% from abroad); more than 51,000 users registered for the online services, with an increase of 10% unique users compared with 2021 (double the number of unique users and visits compared with the last in-person fair in 2019); and 2,500 unique users followed the direct livestreams. In addition, more than 1,100 professionals joined masterclasses, online conferences, training courses, and other programs held over the last three months via Open Up – The BCBF Skill Box.

This story has been updated with more information of the end of the fair.