The 61st edition of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is set to take place April 8–11 at the BolognaFiere Exhibition Centre, marking a shift from its March dates of recent years. The fair, which serves as a meeting place for the worldwide children’s book community to buy and sell rights, talk shop, and stimulate new ideas, will be held alongside its sister events, BolognaBookPlus and Bologna Licensing Trade Fair/Kids.

As Bologna woos more rights professionals, its rights center continues to develop. It now offers 150 tables to children’s and general trade publishers and includes a new setup that allows agents and rights directors to have their own shelves and display posters instead of merely sitting at small tables. “The tables quickly sold out,” says Elena Pasoli, director of the fair.

An adjacent area, the TV and Film Rights Center, will focus on cross-platform adaptations and collaborations and will offer opportunities to talk to representatives from Mediation and Netflix, among other companies.

Welcoming more countries

In the main halls, Bologna will host 1,500 exhibitors from approximately 100 countries and regions. Slovenia is the Guest of Honor country for 2024, and its publishing scene will be showcased in an exhibition titled And Then What Happens?, which will display the works of 59 contemporary Slovenian illustrators.

New countries represented at Bologna include Angola, Belarus, Benin, Bolivia, Cameroon, Colombia, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Monaco, Moldova, Paraguay, Philippines, Togo, and Uganda.

China is set to make a strong comeback at the fair, with an 11,000-square-foot space featuring 70 exhibitors. The fair has also introduced an annual exhibition titled Chinese Excellence in Children’s Illustration that will highlight 15 Chinese illustrators and award three of them with prizes and is scheduled to take place for the next five years. Also from Asia, Japan Foundation is sponsoring a new exhibit focused on the artistry of Japanese children’s book publishing.

Once again, Ukraine’s presence is likely to garner significant attention, with fair organizers deciding to promote the country’s publishing scene amid its continuing war with Russia and award the Talking Pictures prize for excellence in Ukrainian adult publishing at the fair. The award is being given in collaboration with the Kyiv Book Arsenal—Ukraine’s principal book fair—and will be supported by a talk and seminar. Pasoli says she was surprised by the large number of titles submitted for the prize. “It demonstrates the Ukrainian industry’s persistence and resilience,” she says.

The theme of war is also echoed in this year’s Jackets Off exhibition, which showcases different cover interpretations of a single title from around the world, with this iteration focusing on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Asked if the war between Israel and Hamas will be given special attention, Pasoli pointed out that the fair has never had official stands for Israel or Palestine, so it was not a consideration.

From audiobooks to AI

The BolognaBookPlus program, which runs parallel to the main fair and caters to the general trade, is offering a market focus on Indian publishing, and training conferences on rights selling, becoming a literary agent, and self-publishing. “The main program we are featuring that is new this year is our focus on audiobooks,” says Orna O’Brien, head of marketing for BolognaBookPlus.

The slate includes 18 speakers from 10 countries and is organized by Nathan Hull, chief strategy officer at Norway’s Beat Technology. “We plan to cover everything from habit data to diaspora voices, and podcasting to screenless kids’ audio and business trends,” Hull says.

Comics will have an increased presence at the fair, with the Comics Corner expanding significantly, from 40 to 70 exhibitors, Pasoli says, noting that “most of the exhibitors now have comics books in their catalogs.”

Unsurprisingly, artificial intelligence and its impact on illustration and book production will feature in a number of panels. Asked if the fair had yet seen any illustrations submitted for its prestigious illustrators exhibition, Pasoli says, “Not yet.” She adds that the fair has yet to decide whether AI illustrations will be banned from exhibitions and contests. “We are studying it and it is under discussion, but no decisions had been made. The main issue for us is to ensure that no one’s copyright is violated and anyone using AI respects copyright.”

Sustainability and the environment are once again central themes at Bologna. In collaboration with the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals Club, the fair will host an exhibition of books on ecological topics. Additionally, the fair is holding an event in collaboration with the SDG Club, at which dozens of authors and illustrators will read the 30 articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in their own languages.

Representation is a central topic for several seminars, and the cultures of Indigenous minorities and the representation of African American and Afro-Latin-American stories in mainstream publishing will be under discussion.

Pasoli adds that “Sea” was the special category for the Bologna Ragazzi Prizes. “I like this category, which explores various aspects of the ocean and is emblematic of so many things, from the natural habitat to its political significance as a boundary and border, to the ways in which humans impact the environment,” she says.

Authors, illustrators, oh my!

As is customary, Bologna will host a roll call of prestigious international authors and illustrators from the Americas, including Canadian Aviaq Johnston and Brazilians Nat Cardozo and Victor D.O. Santos; Cao Wenxuan from China; Spaniards Ximo Abadia, Roger Olmos, and Paloma Valdivi; Emma Adbåge and Jenny Jägerfeld from Sweden; Belgians Kitty Crowther, Max de Radiguès, and Bart Moeyaert; Beatrice Alemagna and Davide Calì from Italy; Linde Faas and Edward van De Vendel from the Netherlands; Øyvind Torseter from Norway. France is represented by Anne Brouillard, Philippe Lechermeier, Lorenzo Mattotti, and Hervé Tullet, while the U.K. has Julia Donaldson and Neil Packer, the 2024 BolognaBookPlus author ambassador, among others.

A trio of seminars will feature prominent Americans discussing provocative topics: historian Leonard Marcus will offer “Pictured Worlds: The Illustrated Children’s Book Past, Present, and Future”; illustrator and writer Mac Barnett will discuss the importance of children’s illustration with publisher and critic Maria Russo; and Russo herself will present a program titled “Dead Bunnies and Naked Bottoms: Meeting the Challenges of Children’s Publishing Across Cultures.”

Collaborations are a cornerstone of the fair, and this year is no exception. Bologna has ongoing partnerships with the Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair and has added a new partnership with the Ake Arts & Book Festival in Lagos, Nigeria, which will see the two events working together to teach best practices to African children’s publishers, including offering an online illustration course with Mimaster Illustrazione. In 2019, the fair started a partnership with the Moscow International Book Fair, but that has been on hold since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Starting in 2021, the Bologna Book Fair has also embarked on annual “grand tours,” staging exhibits and its Illustrators Survival Corner, which offers instruction for children’s illustrators at numerous other book fairs each year, including those in Frankfurt, Guadalajara, London, and New Delhi, as well as at the Society of Illustrators in New York City.

A revamped and expanded fair bookstore has moved upstairs, off the show floor. It will host seminars and promises to be more conducive to networking and lounging.

When asked about the overall spirit of the fair and the industry, Pasoli expresses optimism. “The children’s publishing industry is so lively, and children’s books are doing very well across the world,” she says. “I applaud the commitment and dedication of publishers, who continue to produce new and diverse books despite economic challenges.”

More on this year's Bologna Book Fair

Bologna 2024: Program Highlights
The Bologna Fair will host more than 360 panels and meetings across several stages.