2012 Bologna Book Fair in Review: Confidence Meets Opportunity

In Children's by Dennis Abrams

“YA novels are becoming a particularly hard sell, as wizards, vampires, and dystopian novels have become derivative and over-saturated.”

By Dennis Abrams

One TOC, four days of actual book fair, roughly 70 miles walked, approximately 30 pounds of catalogs gathered, and hundreds of exchanged business cards later, my first Bologna Children’s Book Festival is finito. It was a memorable, exhausting, and exhilarating week. I left Bologna with sore and tired feet, a couple of pounds heavier from all the gelato I managed to consume at La Sorbetteria Castiglione, and a renewed sense of optimism on publishing in general and children’s publishing in particular. Stuck at our desks back at home, it’s easy to see the world through blinders and to forget what a big, diverse, creative and interesting world of children’s books there is out there. I found it eye-opening and inspiring to meet so many people working at publishers big and small, from every part of the planet, who have devoted their lives to creating books for children. And I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

To wit, a few final thoughts from attendees:

Johan Almqvist, Senior Manager, Subsidiary Rights at Chronicle Books said that while there seemed to be less people in attendance than last year, business was outstanding, with everybody from Chronicle completely booked from 9-6 Monday through Wednesday. Almqvist noticed strong interest from the Chinese, and, perhaps not surprisingly, caution from Portuguese and Italian publishers.  The Templeton Twins Have An Idea, the first of a trilogy, was the title that received the most attention, with over fifty publishers expressing interest.


The Creative Company is known for its beautiful editions.

At The Creative Company, whose Lineup for Yesterday (text by Ogden Nash, illustrations by C.F. Payne) received a nonfiction mention at this year’s BolognaRagazzi Awards, the book that received the most interest was Roberto Innocenti’s The Girl in Red, “because all of his books get a lot of attention.”


Carmen Castillo Bazan, Foreign Rights Manager at Italy’s Atlantyca Entertainment, said she noticed a greater presence by publishers from Turkey, India, and Brazil. She also noted that a large number of Latin American publishers, who generally do acquisitions through their Spanish counterparts or at the Guadalajara Book Fair came directly as well. (As well, she also noted a lesser presence from Greece and Portugal, saying that “they prefer to email.”)

Her big titles? Pierdomenico Baccalario’s La Bottega Battibaleno (Enchanted Emporium): Una Valigia De Stelle, (A Suitcase of Stars), the first in a new series by the best-selling author who has already sold more than 2 million copies worldwide, there was also continued success for Roberto Pavanello’s “Bat Pack” series.


Over at Hatchette Children’s Books, Group Rights and Digital Director Andrew Sharp also noticed that strong economies in Turkey and Brazil encouraged increased purchasing, and agreed that business was definitely up from last year as well, with a far bigger presence of Americans.

Among picture books, the Hugless Dougless and Let’s Find Mimi books continue to be extremely popular. Sharp noted that YA novels are becoming a particularly hard sell, as wizards, vampires, and dystopian novels have become derivative and over-saturated, and everybody is waiting for the “next big thing.” But given that, and a growing reluctance to make the investment necessary to publish stand-alone YA titles, hopes are high for the “literary” YA best-selling novelist (Incarceron) Catherine Fisher’s The Obsidian Mirror, the first in a sequence; H.L. Dennis’ Secret Breakers: The Power of Three, the first in a six book series and Secret Kingdom a twelve part series aimed at girls 6 and up. At the end of the fair though, Sharp’s message was this: “This Bologna has been full of confidence and opportunity.”


Quote of the Fair: Barbara Howson, Vice-President of Sales for Canada’s Groundwood Books, observed that picture books continue to be a difficult go because of a shrinking market, but yet, “If it’s special it will go, no matter how shrunk the market is.” Something that publishers in all genres should keep in mind, if not emblazoned in large letters across their desks.


Some other news from around the fair:

Macmillan plans to take on Scholastic’s popular “Horrible Histories” series with a series of their own, written by actor and presenter Tony Robinson.

“Wicked World of Wonders” will focus on different eras throughout history, including Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Robsin is known for his archaeological TV series “Time Team” and for his role in the TV series “Blackadder.”

The first two books in the series will be released in May, the second two in September. Belinda Ioni Rasmussen, publisher at MacMillan Children’s Books, said she was “excited to have Tony writing the series. Who is better to tackle and talk about history than Tony?”

In conjunction with the books Macmillan is also launching an online game produced by Aardman Studios, creator of Wallace & Gromit, an enhanced ebook, and an audiobook read by Robinson.


Egmont press is launching a new humor book imprint, and will partner with leading developers Touch Press for a War Horse app, based on Michael Morpurgo’s bestselling book, the basis for the play and last year’s film directed by Steven Spielberg.

The new imprint, Jelly Pie, will exclusively publish humor titles for six to eight-year olds, with the first title, Jim Smith’s Barry Loser: I Am Not A Loser, published in June. Six additional titles will be published this year.


Oxford University Press has signed Carnegie Medal-winner Philip Reeve and newly emerging picture book star Sarah McIntyre to collaborate on a series of four books. In a statement Liz Cross, OUP Chidlren’s Books head of publishing said, “I’m a huge fan of both Philip and Sarah, and together they have found an irrepressible creative spark, coming up with a wonderful story that bursts with originality and fun. We couldn’t be more excited about working with them on this irresistible joint project.”


Dutch author Guus Kuijer was awarded this year’s Astrid Lindgren memorial Award. Kuijer, who published his first book in 1975, has since written more than 30 books mostly aimed at early adolescents, including Het boek van alle dingen (The Book of Everything), Florian Knoll and a series of five books about the girl Polleke, starting with Voor altijd samen, amen (Together Forever, Amen).

His books have been translated into more than ten languages, including English, Swedish, German, Italian and Japanese. The judges praised Kuijer’s ‘unprejudiced gaze and a sharp intellect” and his ability to “combine serious subject matter and razor-sharp realism with warmth, subtle humour, and visionary flights of fancy.” The award will be presented at a ceremony at the Stockholm Concert hall on May 28th.

The Bookseller Daily at Bologna speculated that Rick Yancey’s young adult novel The Fifth Wave, might well be the book of the fair. Jennifer Besser at Putnam Books for Young Readers pre-emptively purchased the book in a major deal for the world English rights. Puffin is believed to have purchased UK rights, and rights have been sold to Goldmann in Germany.”

Award-winning artist Ryoji, jurist for the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition, had this to say about the selection process: “There’s a Bologna style of art that has been successful in the past. I hoped to broaden the entryway into the collection. I was hoping to increase the interest in people who had not previously become interested in picture books to become engaged with them.”

And as for me, how was my fair? So good that I can hardly wait to come back next year’s event, which is 50th anniversary, which is guaranteed to be something special. Hope to see you all there.

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About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.