I was lucky enough to spend a few days at the 2017 Bologna Children's Book Fair. Here is a brief history of the fair and a few highlights.
The fair began in 1963 in Bologna, Italy. It is one of the largest events in the world that is focused on children's books, and it happens every year in March or April. Over a thousand different publishers and children's book businesses rent space to exhibit in six huge convention halls. The main purpose of the fair is for publishers to buy and sell book rights and to have business meetings, but there are also highly-regarded art shows and the announcements of a few major awards, like the BolognaRagazzi Awards. Individual authors and illustrators also attend the fair to have meetings, get inspired, and peruse new children's books from all over the world.
As usual, this year there was a big focus on original art. The Bologna Illustrators Exhibition, featuring original art from seventy-five illustrators under the age of thirty-five from all over the world, along with the smaller food-themed and silent book-themed art exhibits, displayed current, cutting-edge work. The styles ranged from editorial, to whimsical, to decorative.
The fair had an exciting new feature, called the Illustrator’s Survival Corner. It’s a great place for illustration students and illustrators that are new to the industry, featuring talks given by illustrators, hands-on workshops, and an educational installation on book dummies and portfolios. It also included a small but beautiful exhibit on the art of the pop-up book, with rare, antique pop-up book spreads.
The Author’s and Illustrator’s Café areas were full of presentations and panels, including a panel with illustrator Isabelle Arsenault, her agent Kirsten Hall, and editor Tamar Brazis, talking about the process of making Cloth Lullaby, a picture book about Louise Bourgeois. The book was one of the winners of the BolognaRagazzi Awards for 2017.
While perusing the books at the various booths, I noticed a strong trend of picture books about science, history, biography, and nonfiction, all with truly fantastic art and design—sometimes surprisingly so. I also noticed many picture books specifically about artists, both real and fictional. Another popular topic in picture books was immigration and the immigrant experience.
It’s eye opening to see books being published all over the world with art styles that are not the norm within the United States. If you’re an illustrator, I’d highly recommend exploring the Exhibitor Directory (http://www.bolognachildrensbookfair.com/en/directory/exhibitor-directory-2017/911.html) and following the links to some different international publisher’s websites. It’s a fun way to expose yourself to new and different art styles. If you find any you are interested in submitting to, you can always use the SCBWI International Market Survey (available as a PDF to members in our Resource Library on SCBWI.org) to easily find their submission policies and information.
SCBWI exhibits at the fair every other year, so we’ll be there with our booth in 2018. We offer great Bologna opportunities to our members, such as the Bologna Illustration Gallery Award (BIG) and the SCBWI Rights Catalog for published members, so look out for announcements in the coming months to participate and take advantage of our presence there.