Foreword Reviews

Children's Books the Bologna Way

Fertile Ground image

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF) just held its 55th annual event at the Fiere Exhibition Center just a few blocks from the University of Bologna, considered to be the oldest university in the Western world (11th century). China served as the fair’s Guest of Honor and hosted a six hundred square meter pavilion under the catchy theme of “Dream.” The March 26 opening ceremony was attended by several VIPs including Li Ruiyu, the Chinese ambassador to Italy, as well as Virginio Merola, the mayor of Bologna. Switzerland stepped forward to play the Guest of Honor role in 2019.

Held in conjunction with the Illustrators Fair, Digital Media Fair, and the Bologna Licensing Trade Fair, the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna is unquestionably the most important international event for children’s publishing, attracting a variety of industry professionals including publishers, authors, illustrators, translators, literary agents, tv/film producers, licensees/licensors, printers, packagers, and distributors. This year, BCBF drew 27,642 trade personnel (up 3 percent from 2017), of which, 12,403 arrived from countries other than Italy (up 6 percent). In another improvement over 2017, 1,390 companies from 77 countries maintained exhibit booths in the fair.

Even while children’s book publishing reins supreme during the BCBF, let’s not overlook the hugely significant trade in brands and licensing taking place at this year’s 11th edition of the Bologna Licensing Trade Fair. Behemoths like Warner Bros, Viacom, Pokemon, Disney, National Geographic, and Hasbro make their way to Bologna to wheel and deal intellectual property in the areas of entertainment, sports, and fashion. Think of everything from bedding and pajamas to party favors and broadcasting. In Italy alone, we’re talking 500 million-plus euros a year.

The 2018 fair utilized seven halls at Bologna’s heavily glassed, sprawling exhibit complex. The fact that many areas of this year’s fairgrounds was dotted with towering cranes and the sounds of construction confirmed that the city-owned event space was investing heavily in the lucrative trade show business. But very few attendees complained, and all manner of exhibits devoted to literary agents, translators, and illustrators were scattered about. In addition, BCBF has earned a deserved reputation for hosting many dozens of educational seminars covering all aspects of international publishing. In all, the fair held more than 250 events.

Foreword’s Indie Press Collective was part of Children’s Books USA, located in Hall 26, the international hall where most US and English-speaking publishers are located. The set-up routine of hanging signs and shelving books took us two not-so-hectic days prior to the opening of the fair. That is, once we get past that anxious minute or two upon first arrival, as we count boxes to assure everything has arrived and that the proper number of tables, chairs, shelves, and lights are in place. A couple hiccups withstanding, once the show halls opened and the crowds filed in, the 2018 BCBF proceeded smoothly and professionally.

It may come as no surprise to hear that most non-Italian visitors to the fair speak of Bologna as their favorite of all book shows. Foremost, credit the hundreds of high quality ristorantes, trattorias, osterias, drogherias, and pizzerias sprinkled around the city. Remember that Bologna is the capital of the agriculturally blessed Emilia Romagna region of north-central Italy—think Parmigiana Reggiano, Parma prosciutto, Barilla pasta, Modena balsamic vinegars, Lambrusco, Sangiovese, and other top wine varieties—so its food scene is world renowned. In addition, Bologna is the home of Maserati, Lamborghini, Ducati, Ferrari (Modena), and other legendary automotive/motorcycle brands. Its rich agricultural and industrial history attests to the city’s prosperity, and to walk the streets is to see some of Europe’s most beautiful buildings and architecture, much of it dating from medieval times. The point is, with so much to experience in the city, much of the business of book rights and licensing gets done after hours over Prosecco and spaghetti Bolognese.

Show Floor Buzz

Like Frankfurt and other international book fairs, Bologna provides a much valued opportunity for old colleagues in the publishing industry to get together for intense thirty minute meetings. In fact, you’ll often see professionally dressed agents and publishers jogging down the aisles, hoping to make up a minute or two of lost time between appointments. That their conversations are about make-believe characters and talking animals adds a comical edge to the high-dollar business they’re conducting.

At the Foreword Indie Press Collective, the topics of interest seem to center around fun stories to read to kids (that adults enjoy too) and extremely high quality illustrated books, as well as books covering issues like the environment, nature, animals, learning, science, girl power, and community building. For unexplained reasons, there was very little call for middle-grade books, though it might just be that certain foreign publishers don’t segment out young readers into such narrow slots.

As in years past, books with foil seals on the cover (reflecting awards), continued to be a draw, as did books in a series. The Chinese, especially, seem to seek out books with a moral lesson, and subjects like science, green ecology, and travel. A handful of North American publishers stopped by the Collective to ask about interesting independently published books, in hopes of augmenting their lists and expand distribution opportunities.

Foreword’s Indie Press Collective and Children’s Books USA Stand

The Foreword Collective was located at booth B117, in Hall 26, positioned within Children’s Books USA, a thirty-year-old Bologna Book Fair concierge and exhibit service for US publishers including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Charlesbridge, Peachtree, Holiday House, Teacher Created Materials, and APA/Magination Press. The presence of these established houses, along with their rights people working through a long list of half-hour appointments, drives a significant amount of traffic into the Collective’s vicinity. HMH’s Candace Finn met with seventy-three different clients over the four days, Farah Gehy from Peachtree probably came with six or eight appointments of that number. Others, like Anita Eerdman, reserve a couple hours each day to scout for projects to acquire in the areas hosting Italy/France/China/Japan/Argentina publishers and other foreign halls. At any given time in our CBUSA booth, several translators and illustrators will be offering their services or reconnecting with one of the US publisher reps. An exciting distraction occurred on Wednesday afternoon, March 28, when Holiday House’s Grace Maccarone hosted an open forum for freelance illustrators to show their work in breathless two-minute segments, and thirty-plus young illustrators from around the world took advantage of the opportunity. Many more were disappointed to arrive late and missed out. As with any international book show, printers from China and Korea frequently stop by to chat about their companies and leave literature.

The 2018 Foreword Indie Press Collective was hosted by Victoria Sutherland (publisher of Foreword Reviews) and me, her husband, the editor-in-chief of Foreword Reviews. Longtime friend and agent Sylvia Hayse was positioned in front of the Foreword Collective, and over the course of the fair fielded dozens of inquiries, as well as 44 scheduled appointments, including 8 publishing professionals (publishers or agents) from China, 8 from Korea, 2 from Taiwan, 1 Arabic language from Lebanon, 3 from Bulgaria, 2 from Czechoslovakia, 3 from Germany, 3 from the Netherlands, 2 from Italy, 1 from India, 1 from Malaysia, 3 from Turkey, 2 from the UK, 1 from Singapore, 3 from Spain (also representing South America), 1 from the US, and 1 agency representing Eastern European countries that is now expanding into Spain and South America.

Much of our business at the fair is in the form of walk-bys. To attract attention and traffic, we also gave away a couple hundred March/April 2018 issues of Foreword Reviews. At the end of the fair, hundreds of books from the CBUSA stand (if they weren’t passed along to interested agents on the last day) were donated to two different English schools in central Italy: Arianna Guerri of KiddieWinks (a new international Montessori school) and Angela Barlow of the English International School of Padua, serving students from three to eighteen years old. The gift of so many books is eagerly anticipated and greatly appreciated each year.

For children’s book publishers of a certain size, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is a must-do event. Smaller independent presses, in particular, have found the BCBF an excellent venue to begin a rights program. Compared to Frankfurt, the Bologna Fair is modestly sized and manageable. If you are interested in attending one international show overseas, Bologna may be a perfect fit.

As the enthusiasm for children’s books continues to grow worldwide, the Foreword Indie Press Collective will also be participating with Children’s Books USA at the China Children’s Book Fair in Shanghai in November 2018. New publishers and authors are always welcome to participate.


Matt Sutherland

Load Next Article