Despite recent world events and uncertainty about air travel and safety, this year's Bologna Book Fair (running April 10—13) should provide few unpleasant surprises; most participants will be delighted to see that little has changed. Fairgoers will find their usual trading partners in expected places, with English-language publishers (many now exhibiting on multinational corporate stands) grouped in familiar pavilions 27 and 28 near the main entrance, alongside those Italians who come for international business—the Mondadoris, Rizzolis and De Agostinis, together with smaller groups strong in the rights market (Piemme, Giunti, Dami International et al.).
To the extent possible, exhibitors are divided into sectors: children's and YA books; school books; and electronic publishing. In practice, many publishers, especially in the Italian pavilions, belong in all three categories. A New Media Arcade connecting international pavilions 29 and 30 will again show the software product of companies that are not in the book business, together with projects to be awarded this year's Bologna New Media Prize (sponsored by Children's Software Revue). These prizes are not to be confused with the Children's eBook Award, to be given at the same time and place by the International eBook Award Foundation.
Once again, a U.S. Media Pavilion, sponsored by the U.S. Commerce Department in the hall containing most American participants, will showcase the wares of a number of software producers (on individual or collective stands).
Bologna's organizers, who run professional shows year-round at a state-of-the-art fairgrounds on the city's northern rim, certainly do what they can to make the experience painless. Bologna is now online for registration, stand equipment and who's who information to facilitate advance appointments (at www.Bookfair.bolognafiere.it). The fair's Literary Agents Center manages to be attractive and comfortable as well as efficient (message center, lockers, bar and snack service), sited on the far end of the English-language pavilions, a jumping-off point for the publishers of the rest of the world. Early registrations at the center (fee: $300) indicate that all or most of the leading children's book agents in the U.S., U.K., continental Europe and Japan will be present once again.
A key feature of each year's fair is the Illustrators Exhibition (with separate sections for fiction and nonfiction), whose entries are vetted by a jury of professionals. The work of winning illustrators is on display during the fair, and a handsome catalogue in art-book format is available to serve for future reference.
One piece of news, all the same: the traditional opening reception (which many participants skip anyway in order to attend smaller parties or working dinners) will not be held this year. Instead, to mark the tragic events of last September, fair management will make significant contributions to three appropriate causes: UNICEF, particularly for its school programs in Afghanistan; PENCIL (Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning), a New York City public schools program; and Everybody Wins! DC, a children's literacy project.
Fairgoers who wish to see how Italian children live can do so with the launching of a reading-promotion festival—Fieri di Leggere (literally, Proud to Be Reading)—a kids-only event to be inaugurated on the eve of the fair. Sponsored by the Bologna city and regional administrations and book fair management, it will run until May 19. On April 9, the event will inaugurate a "Zoo Fantastico," where costumed children's book characters will come to life; there will also be an exhibition of new books and books in the making.
All this, and Bologna, too, a placidly beautiful northern Italian relic of the past, its medieval and Renaissance monuments still serving as residences, shops or office buildings. The city center is the largest unspoiled historic site in Italy after Venice; its university is Europe's oldest (one of its professors, Umberto Eco, has just launched a master's program in publishing).
After the fair, walking is de rigueur alongside or underneath one of the graceful arcades that mark the old city (there are dozens of miles of arcades to choose from); weather permitting, one can linger over drinks on the large piazza facing the basilica and town hall—or one of the smaller but no less gracious piazzettes. And so on to dinner, keeping in mind that Bologna, a gastronomic capital of Italy, is for serious eaters—not to mention serious readers too.