I have just returned from three days at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and thought is was worth a review. If you have never been and you are thinking about going in future years then I hope this will be useful to you.
What is it?
One of the biggest and most established book fairs in the world. This year it attracted 1442 exhibitors and over 27,000 visitors. It is the place for book publishers, agents, illustrators and booksellers. Some awards, like the biannual Hans Christian Andersen Awards, are announced. But, mainly it is the place for buying and selling publishing rights.
How much does it cost?
Price: €38 for 1 day ticket, €70 for 2 day ticket and €92 for a permanent ticket.
What’s in it for librarians?
First of all it is an opportunity to see the ‘book business’ from a completely different vantage point. Librarians are very much at the reader/user end of the scale. The fair shows how books, once written, are published, translated and sold on global markets. Books are still big business and you can witness the hunt to find trends, ‘hot’ authors and illustrators and the next best sellers. However, if you really want to justify a visit then it depends on what you are looking for.
Go with a goal
I went with a specific goal – to find good books in other languages and/or translated into English. I felt the fair really creates potential to get the best foreign language books into library collections. As publishers from all over the world attend it is a great opportunity to go through hall upon hall of exhibitors and browse thorough lots of different children’s books from Australia to West Africa – the array of countries is amazing.
You can look at the books on the stands, see what is eye-catching, interesting and appealing. What is most helpful is collecting brochures that summarise the books in English, give author bios and extra information such as if it has been published in other languages. I will use these for ordering books next year to make my collection more multi-lingual and multicultural.
If you are only interested in English books then I am not sure it is worth it. The big UK and US publishers are there BUT their stands are set up for dealing with agents, publishers, illustrators etc and it is difficult to get close. And anyway, they are selling the books that you probably already know about and have already. If you really want to see the next David Walliams book then I am sure your local bookseller already has it or knows about it…
Having said that, there is great value in looking at books from other English speaking countries. I also try to have a balanced English language collection and want to include books from New Zealand, Ireland, Canada etc and not just the UK and US.
Can you buy books?
Depends. Most are not there to sell but some do. I bought Tree Matters by Gangu Bai from the Tara stand. There is a book shop and you can buy some of the fair’s highlighted titles. I don’t think they were discounted but at least you can look at them before you buy and see if they are suitable for your library. Chris Haughton was there book signing and the queue was quite long…
Any thing else going on?
There is lots going on in different ‘cafe’s’ around the exhibition. I went to the Children’s Laureates talk which was OK. I was thrilled to see Maurice Gleitzman as I really enjoy his books. The laureates were lined up on stage and to be honest looked a little dazed and unprepared, despite Julia Eccleshare’s calm and encouraging presence. It was also noisy in the Illustrator’s cafe so you really had to concentrate on what was being discussed. I would have loved to hear more from them but from what I could tell that was the only event they attended.
Many talks were in Italian and mostly aimed at illustrators and translators. The only other thing I was interested in was for booksellers and it was about reading in other languages. It would have been interesting but what looked like a free event was actually ticketed and by the time I found out it was sold out.
Definitely the Illustrators Cafe where there is an exhibition of illustration and board upon board of contact details of illustrators and examples of their work. The talent is incredible and if you enjoy picture books you will love it.
Switzerland was 2019’s guest of honour and that held tremendous appeal for me. I loved their exhibit – they used the alphabet to combine ‘Swissness’ with some of their best illustrators. It was very effective.
The scale. It is a vast exhibition and you will be mesmerised!
Book ahead for an early bird ticket.
Download the BCBF app and get an idea of who and what you want to see before you go.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, Fiere which was quite a way from the venue and from the city BUT it did have a free shuttle service to the fair each morning and afternoon. This was a massive bonus as the local buses, to begin with, are complicated…
The buses. When you know you know and when you don’t who is there to ask?
Bus 35 takes you from the main station to the fair. You can pay on board if you have €1.50 in change otherwise you need to buy a ticket at the newsstand in the station. If you buy a ticket beforehand make sure you pop it in the machine on the bus to validate it. It is good for 75 mins and you can validate it again if you need to change buses within that time.
Some buses don’t announce the stops and the stop aren’t signed so you can be quite blind as to where to get off.
Also, people said that Bologna Airport is slow so if you are flying home do leave enough time to get through security etc. I got the train and recommend really ensuring you are on the right train – sounds simple but I ended up a much slower train because two trains left at exactly the same time and I, I picked the slow one…
There are plenty of snack stands in the fair and the coffee was €1.50 and pastries less than €1. Hot food, mostly panini and pasta were around €4-6. If you don’t eat dairy or meat you will want to take your own food and that is ok. Many people were picnicking around the venue.
Bags were not checked on entry and didn’t seem restricted. In fact many people wheeled their cases, portfolios etc around. I stored my case for €3 because it was so heavy from the brochures and I did lots and lots of walking.
The Tales by V.Dal (photographed at the Illustrator’s Cafe)
What to wear
Sunglasses so you can pretend to be Italian and also because the weather in Bologna in early April is warm and sunny.
Umbrella for April showers.
Coat or jacket as it is chilly in the morning.
The venue is warm and all the stands are inside. There are some seating areas outdoors so you can get some fresh air.
Tiger by Jimmy Liao (photographed at the Taiwan stand)
How long to go for?
You can do it in one day – just be prepared to do A LOT of walking and be there from opening time. If you want to attend any talks then plan before hand so you know the best day to go. I had a quick look on Day 2 as my train was delayed so I didn’t get in until late and then Day 3 I went to the Laureate’s talk and spent the rest of the day looking at all the exhibitors. I returned on Day 4 in the hope to get into the talk about multilingualism and reading but there was no chance so I spent the morning finding exhibitors I had missed and looking for freebies.
Will I get free books?
Maybe but probably not. I got the friendliest welcome from Publishing Scotland who said I could take a couple of books. I picked Lark by Anthony McGowan, Punch by Barbara Henderson, Captain Crank and Seadog Steve by Vivian French and Alison Bartlett. I also had a lovely greeting from Peter Carnavas’ agent and got a copy of Blue Whale Blue when I explained my interest in books about whales. But others were either selling them off (some reduced prices) or packing up completely.
What would I do differently?
I wouldn’t go on the last day. I found the energy quite flat and some stands had already emptied. For those people on the stands it is long hours so best to go when the fair opens and energy and anticipation is high.
Use social media to meet librarians at the event.
Stay in the city centre and enjoy more vegan cafes and walks through the portico covered streets.
If you can’t go then don’t feel like you are missing out.
Visit IBBY for their Honour List which is a selection of books from IBBY member countries and the International Jugendbibliothek for The White Ravens Catalogue which is a list of books from around the world that have a noteworthy theme, artistic/literary/style.