Bologna Children’s Book Fair has been held annually over four days since 1963. It was our great pleasure to attend this year’s 60th anniversary on behalf of Riverbend Books. The BCBF is the international meeting place for many professionals involved in the industry of children’s publishing and attracts publishers, authors, illustrators, academics, and sometimes book sellers. The main purpose of the Fair is the buying and selling of rights, for translations and for extended products such as television, movies, animation and merchandising. At this event a number of major awards for children’s literature are distributed. It was an incredible opportunity and experience to see an overview of children’s illustrations and trends from around the world.
In 2023 there were 1456 exhibitors from around 90 countries and regions the world, and a total of 28 894 professional visitors. This figure is +35% compared with 2022 and back to pre-pandemic levels. There were 325 live events over the four days and 260 further events at the fair and around Bologna. (1)
The Australian Stand was full of activity with 13 publishers and literary agencies from around Australia. The following authors and illustrators also participated in the stand: Alison Lester, Gabrielle Wang,Jane Godwin, Anna Walker, Isobelle Carmody, Davina Bell, Tony Flowers, Inda Ahmad Zahri, Josie Montano, Carla Hoffenberg, Jess Racklyeft, Lucia Masciullo, Sylvia Morris, Felicita Sala and Kelly Canby. (2)
Obviously many areas of the book fair were not relevant to book sellers but it was interesting to observe the Bologna Global Rights exchange. The main goal of the fair is selling of the rights to publish internationally and for publishers to search for new projects through meeting artists. There were also many industry specific areas such as the Translator’s Cafe for- meetings and workshops for translators and The Illustrators Survival Corner which held masterclasses, lectures, workshops and portfolio reviews. The Bologna Licensing Trade Fair is a trade show for subsidiary rights of brands and Comics Corner was a spotlight exhibition of 40 comic book publishers and a dedicated programme of meetings. Training conferences were in a variety of venues and included, how to sell rights and understand licensing, writing and self-publishing, how to become a successful literary agent and how AI technology can change publishing.
There was a palpable air of excitement, particularly walking into the Fair on the first day. There was also a real sense that life was somewhat back to normal post pandemic. One of the social highlights was the BCBF 60th Anniversary party “Still Rocking at 60!” held at the Palazzo Re Enzo, a 13th century palace in the centre of Bologna, where there was live music, dancing and drinks until the wee hours of the morning.
Over the course of the fair we observed the following exhibitions:
The Illustrators Wall - walls covered with posters, pictures, sketches and business cards from illustrators hoping their work will attract the attention of publishers. One of the most dynamic and exciting areas of the fair.
Display - 60! Landscapes and Portraits of BCBC - 60th anniversary illustration contest and exhibition. Contest open exclusively to those artists selected for the exhibition over the past decade. Using only the four colours of the BCBF logo, illustrators were asked to produce an illustration focused on a memory from their visits to Bologna. The jury comprised the ten great artists selected to create the covers of the last ten years’ Illustrators Annuals.The 20 winning illustrations were displayed.
Andrés López - This exhibition showcases illustrations created by Andrés López – the 2022 Mexican winner of the 12th International Bologna Children’s Book Fair-Fundación SM Award for Illustration – for his picture book Volver a mirar.
SUZY LEE (Korea) - H.C. Andersen Award 2022, Author of the Illustrators Annual cover 2023
Greece Market of Honour BBPLUS 2023 - Bologna BookPlus inaugural market of honour. At the Greek pavilion there were publishers, authors and illustrators - Best of the Best Greece - Book Design, celebrating fabulous jackets published in 2021/2022 for general trade publishing from the BolognaBookPlus Market of Honour 2023, GREECE.
Israeli Books That Every Child Should Read to Their Parents Before They Fall Asleep
Ars in Fabula Grant Award - awarded to illustrators under the age of 30. Exhibition of the works from the winners from 2012-2022
Women, donne, femmes, Frauen, 女性, mujeres, wanawake, نساء … an exhibition of books about women from many countries recounting the lives of women, their struggle to have their rights recognized, and the role they play, and have played, in art, architecture, science, sport, dance, cinema, music, fashion, writing and the promotion of reading. International Women’s Day was celebrated at the Fair on 8 March.
A dive into the sea of new Italian comics, 2019-22
Jackets Off: “1984” by George Orwell - Celebrates one iconic title, looking at Jackets from different nations and cultures
Illustrated Ukraine - exhibition presenting the works of Ukrainian illustrators created in 2022. Rather than illustrating children’s books, they have drawn images of Ukrainian children suffering from Russian aggression.
Mapping Exhibition 2023 - this is an exhibition of illustrations that look at how literature for early childhood relates to the performing arts for the very young.
The “children-spectators” 2022, 2021, 2020 and 2019 - exhibitions from illustrators who have participated in the four year project of the “Mapping – A map on the aesthetics of performing arts for early years”.
Quentin Blake - an entire wall at the entrance to the Fair was dedicated to Quentin Blake in honour of his 90th birthday. 90 of the UK’s leading illustrators created an image of a candle to reference the original meaning of the word “illustration” - “to light up, make light, or illuminate”.
The BolognaRagazzi Award honours the finest productions in terms of graphic and editorial qualities. The award encompasses four main categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Opera Prima (a prize for first-time authors and illustrators), and Comics. The annual special category is dedicated to Photography. These titles were showcased in THE BRAW AMAZING BOOKSHELF EXHIBITION.
Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award - 7th March 2023 - announced in Stockholm and livestreamed at the Illustrators Café
Announcement of the list of nominees for the 2024 Hans Christian Andersen Award including Australians, Gary Crew (Writing) and Matt Ottley (Illustration).
It was wonderful to see copies on display at the IBBY stand of the Australian titles Sensitive by Allayne L Webster and Future Girl Asphyxia which been selected for the 2023 IBBY international catalogue of outstanding books for young people with disabilities.
There were two standout sessions that we went to that had real relevance to our roles as book sellers.
1. What is the state of children’s book banning around the world and what is being done?
- Moderator - Barbara Marcus, President Penguin Random House, USA.
- Jon Anderson President and publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division and on the Board of the National Coalition Against Censorship, USA
- Dora Batalim SottoMayor, Member of Instituto Emilia, Brasil, and Coordinator of the Postgraduate Course in Children's Books at the Catholic University of Lisbon, Portugal
- Doris Breitmoser, Managing Director of the Association for Children’s Literature/Arbeitskreis für Jugendliteratur AKJ, Germany
- Giorgia Grilli, professor of children's literature and co-founder of the Center for Research in Children's Literature in the Department of Education, University of Bologna, Italy
- David Levithan, author, USA.
This was a compelling session with each of the panellists bringing their own ideas of what constitutes “censorship” to the discussion. The moderator Barbara began with discussing the situation in the United States. The U.S panellists all referred to a study by PEN America called the Banned in the USA Report (3). According to the report there were over 2 500 registered book bans in the U.S in 2022, mostly YA titles, and 41% explicitly had LGBTQIA themes, 30% POC, 21% issues of racism. Jon Anderson discussed these statistics stating that censorship in the USA had “never been worse” and censorship, which had previously been unorganised, with the rise of right wing conservative politics, such as in the case of Ron De Santis in Florida, and the rise of social media, censorship has been organised nationally. Organisations such as “Moms for Liberty” have been concertedly going after teachers, librarians and booksellers. On a positive note, students are fighting back and book sales for these “banned books” have increased.
The European speakers had a very different take on the concept of “censorship”. Dora Batalim Sotto Mayo from Portugal spoke on the idea that we all have our own perspectives and therefore are all “censors in some way”. Her focus was on the rights of the illustrator but she also discussed that the idea that “inclusive language” can be problematic in the Portuguese language. She also referred to the fact that European illustrators, when illustrating for jobs in the U.S market, are given guidelines restricting what they can do. She mentioned government censorship with the picture book War by Jose Jorge Letria, illustrated by André Letria. This picture book had been nominated for an award in China, but it was removed and in the week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the book was bought by a Russian publisher to have it removed from distribution in Russia. She also mentioned that booksellers also exhibit censorship when they do not stock books that they perceive will not sell or have controversial content. Parents, teachers, booksellers and publishers are all censors and play a part in censorship and gatekeepers are a form of censors in countries and this includes award panels and social media.
Doris Breitmose also concurred that “censorship” is perhaps not the case in Europe as it is in the United States. She referred to the term “discourse norming”, that children’s literature is measured against what are the existing and prevailing ideas of childhood and age appropriateness. She also noted that while a book may be published in one country, it may have to go through censorship in another, for example in Iran. She also focussed on the issue of outdated language (of course, the media attention to Roald Dahl books was a hot topic) as this has been a problem with some traditional German texts. She sees changing texts as a “slippery slope” and mentioned that adding prefixes or epilogues/footnotes can be a solution. There is also the possibility of these texts simply losing favour with the market. She mentioned the disturbing case in the Netherlands of a young queer author Pim Lammers who in February 2023 was commissioned to write a poem for National Children’s Book Week. Unfortunately, the young poet was subjected on social media to death threats and defamation as a “paedophile activist” and he withdrew from the commission.
Giorgia Grilli gave a fascinating perspective on the situation in Italy, noting that although in the U.S books have been banned from schools, “In Italy, we have a deeper problem: we don’t have books in schools”. Historically, in Italy the novel was considered subversive and political thought can make us critical of society. Therefore the struggle in Italy is to get books that are not textbooks into schools where they do not typically have school libraries or librarians. She also talked about the censorship of absence seen when authors and illustrators adapt their work to a dominant view. She gave the example of the work of The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna. Thames & Hudson for the UK market, asked Beatrice to redraw a picture and remove the depiction of a knife in the hands of a butcher and replace it with a pointed finger. She asked the question, “why?” as “children are obsessed with blood”. She believes that stereotyping a child or family is more dangerous than banning because at least the banned book exists. Thus authors, publishers, booksellers and librarians must keep supporting and pushing for diverse stories. The takeaway message is that every child has the right to read in their language and to see themselves reflected in books. As a judge of illustration awards she laments the increasingly dominant view of illustrating children as open-mouthed, starry-eyed and smiling rather than the wild and complicated creatures that they are.
Finally U.S author David Levithan gave an impassioned plea for action. He drew a comparison between Vladimir Putin in Russia with Ron De Santis’s bans in Florida as both target books with LGBTQIA themes and content. His message to other countries was not to be complacent and that far right groups from around the world are taking note, “It’s an effort by the far right to push the kids back into the closet. The far right don’t care if they kill themselves there,” he said. On a positive note he stated that over 1 800 authors have had their works challenged in the U.S. The good news is that publishers are still publishing the content and supporting the authors and readers. Our favourite quote of his from the day was his response to a question about the Roald Dahl censorship issue where he states, “I don’t give a shit about Roald Dahl using the word ‘fat’ or ‘enormous’. That conversation is a distraction. We have to focus on the things that are most important to the kids and make sure the media is paying attention to that.” We can argue about language but meanwhile teachers and librarians in the U.S are facing prison sentences over the content in their libraries. It’s a sobering thought as a bookseller.
This was an incredibly interesting session giving us occasion to think about the types of books we stock in our own store. The final statement from David Levithan is an important one for all in the children’s book industry to consider, “This is a crucial moment. We need to keep publishing these books! The whole [publishing] chain needs to be there. Even a wobble in one part might cause a chilling effect.” Jon Anderson from Simon & Schuster summed up by stating, “It’s a fight. A major fight,” but “the forces of good are becoming fully mobilized.”
2. A highlight of the event for us was also attending the session Children’s Laureates in Conversation.
- Áine Ní Ghlinn (Laureate na nÓg, Ireland)
- Joseph Coehlo (Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate, United Kingdom)
- Casi Wyn (Bardd Plant Cymru, Wales)
- Gabrielle Wang (Children’s Laureate, Australia)
- Tialda Hoogeveen (Berneboeke ambassadeur Fryslân, Friesland)
- Nioosha Shams (Sveriges läsambassadör, Sweden)
- Susanna Mattiangeli (Children’s Laureate, Italy)
- Julia Eccleshare (chair)
Each laureate was given a short time to introduce themselves, discuss their focus and mission of their laureate and read some of their own work in their own language. The absolute highlight though was Casi Wyn who is the Welsh language children’s poet laureate. She sang with the voice of an angel. You can see her performance here. (4)
We also attended in the centre of the city a stunning satellite exhibition, Le cose preziose. The Stubborn Quest of Beatrice Alemagna, dedicated to the works of Beatrice Alemagna, the most well-known Italian picture book author, showcasing more than 200 works spanning her entire career.
WHO SHOULD GO TO BOLOGNA
Attending Bologna is definitely worthwhile for illustrators and publishers. As booksellers what we gained from this experience was a total immersion in seeing how the industry operates. There was a great excitement in the air and we were able to reinforce our relationships and contacts with Australian creatives and publishers. We came away with great inspiration for our own displays and visuals in the store and it affirmed our belief in our own collection development. We could see at many of the stands books that we have stocked in our own store. We have much to think about from this experience and how we will use this knowledge in our own business. The tradition is that on the last day is that publishers start selling all the books they brought with them. Unfortunately, there was no room in our suitcases!
Pauline McLeod and Lisa Norman
Riverbend Books, Bulimba