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Publishers Weekly Children's Features

No Hype, and Lots of Charm
Herbert R. Lottman -- 3/6/00
Once again the Bologna Children's Book Fair offers the pleasures of springtime in Italy

Flags from many countries greet visitors to the fair.
It's not just by chance that the only category book show that really works is Bologna's, despite brave tries over the years to launch international fairs in other specialties (in art, for example). Surely it has to do with the nature of children's book publishing, a planet away from the lean and mean atmosphere of adult publishing as seen in Frankfurt in autumn. It's a planet on which patience pays, and where the typical booth scene is a slow-paced poring over dummies. Children's book editors seem the least likely to be vulnerable to hype, the most likely to welcome content from the far corners of the globe; indeed, in contrast to most of their colleagues in adult trade books, they actively seek it out.

See for yourself at the upcoming fair, whose dates are March 29-April 1; this represents a switch to a Wednesday-through-Saturday exhibition--dropping the somewhat anti-climactic Sunday closing of past years, when it often seemed that tots running through the aisles (and their parents) outnumbered trade visitors. Once again, every major book producing country will be present, with most publishers and packagers exhibiting at individual booths, while smaller countries and those not fully integrated into the market will show on collective stands. The floor plan tells you right away that this is a very doable fair, with traditional trading partners seldom very far away.

Bologna draws some 1,400 exhibitors, over 1,100 of them from outside Italy. A smartly fitted-out Literary Agents Center serves as a base and message center for authors' and illustrators' agents from round the world. No changes have been made in spatial arrangements for this spring's fair. The U.S., U.K. and other English-speaking countries will show in facing pavilions hard by the fairground's entrance. Italians are grouped in five contiguous pavilions, while most other countries are grouped in a large L-shaped hall. The largest foreign contingent by far is the U.K. (as it is at Frankfurt), which will fill nearly 54,000 square feet of exhibiting surface; the Americans occupy only about half as much space. Among first-timers from the U.S.: the American Psychological Association, Berlitz Publishing, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Lucas Licensing, and such promising logos as Big Guy Books, Book Soup, Crocodile Creek, Star Bright and Wildstorm.

A U.S. Media Pavilion located in the American hall is being put together by the U.S. Department of Commerce to show software producers both on individual booths and on a collective stand.

But it's safe to say that few professionals wend their ways to Bologna for the electronics. Children's publishing at its best is still print on paper. And a no-nonsense event at every Bologna fair for the past 34 years is the Illustrators Exhibition, a showcase for published and ready-to-be-published artists whose entries are carefully vetted by a panel of professionals during an arduous three-day session held some weeks before the fair. The art show is enhanced by a comprehensive catalogue to facilitate post-fair contacts between exhibiting artists and would-be publishers. (Following this year's fair, the works displayed in the fiction section will be shipped to Northwestern University's library, for a show to run concurrently with BookExpo America in Chicago.)

The fair's opening day will be capped by an inaugural dinner at which Bologna's traditional book awards are announced and bestowed, together with New Media Prizes (co-sponsored by Children's Software Revue) for software and Internet sites specifically created for children.

Fair veterans and first-timers alike will be pleased to hear that this year's fair comes with a bonus. The city's monumental center has been spruced up, in recognition of Bologna's selection as one of Europe's Cultural Capitals for the year 2000 (among the others: Prague and Krakow). The selection has inspired an impressive roster of art exhibitions and cultural events open during fair week.

For more information on Bologna--the business or the pleasure of it--try the fair's Web site, notably for a list of exhibitors, regularly updated. It is also possible to reserve a booth, an advertisement, or a hotel room online. Exhibitors can access a list of pre-registered professional visitors, as well as data banks on multimedia publishers and their products, all at: www.BolognaFiere.it/Bookfair.
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