Bologna Children’s Book Fair Cancels Its Physical 2021 Fair

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Having committed to giving exhibitors a couple of months’ notice on a decision about its physical event, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair announces a digital-only edition for 2021.

At the 2019 edition of Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Image: BCBF

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Pasoli: ‘Despite Our Earlier Optimism’
Answering one of the big questions of world publishing’s 2021 spring, Bologna Children’s Book Fair has announced today (April 9) that it will cancel its physical evocation—already rescheduled to June 14 to 17 in order to try to step around the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

This will mark the second year in which the world’s leading trade show dedicated to children’s and young adult books can’t go forward at the sprawling BolognaFiere complex in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna. Ironically, the announcement comes a day after the Regione Emilia-Romagna administration has begun organizing a public-private partnership for COVID-19 vaccination drives with corporations for their workplaces.

And all of Italy is facing a vexing disappointment, as Chico Harlan and Rick Noack write from Rome for the Washington Post: “The question of what’s gone wrong in Italy is now perplexing a hard-hit nation that had thought it was over the worst … Italy’s predicament has lessons for other countries facing their own tough decisions about whom to prioritize with a limited vaccine supply.”

In today’s announcement from Bologna’s show director Elena Pasoli, she and her team members confirm that all the variously branded elements of the show are being redirected to digital renditions. Those include the Bologna Global Rights Exchange for rights sales and the newly added Bologna Book Plus conference.

As much as the show’s personnel and their international following in the trade industry clearly regret the cancellation of the physical show, today’s announcement is a promise fulfilled: BolognaFiere, per today’s media messaging, “had committed to giving participants two months’ notice of their decision and have today confirmed that this year’s event will go ahead in a digital-only format.”

Elena Pasoli

Pasoli, in a prepared statement, says, “It is with a very heavy heart that we cancel the physical edition of BCBF, and its connected licensing trade show BLTF, for the second year.

“Despite our earlier optimism for an improved global pandemic picture, in order to allow our exhibitors and visitors to plan, we know that the responsible course of action is to share our decision at this point.

“As last year, we can reassure all our exhibiting partners that where refunds are necessary, they will be made. We are putting all our energies into the digital program and look forward to welcoming everyone in person in 2022 for the 59th edition of BCBF with BLTF and the second edition of BBPlus.”

Jacks Thomas

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, “BBPlus” is the newly devised conference program with the compressed branding of which so many in publishing are fond, “BolognaBookPlus”–we’ll be retaining its three words–being guest-directed by Jacks Thomas, former director of London Book Fair.

“Flexibility is the name of the game,” Thomas says, “in planning any event during these unprecedented times.

“And as the transition to a digital-only model has been key in our thinking, we look forward to getting the globe together virtually in June and face-to-face in spring 2022.’

(Speaking of London Book Fair, you’ll recall that that trade show has postponed its own decision about a physical staging until mid-April, its current dates at Olympia London set for June 29 to July 1.)

Gianpiero Calzolari

We also have a comment from BolognaFiere president Gianpiero Calzolari, who says, “Bologna Children’s Book Fair, BLTF and BBPlus, offer a home-away-from-home for the international publishing community to meet, do business, and launch new projects.

“As international travel—and therefore the presence of international participation—remains so uncertain during the continuing global pandemic, the painful decision to postpone the physical fair to 2022 was taken, thus allowing us to concentrate on the extensive digital program in anticipation of meeting in spring 2022 in Bologna, in person.

“This sacrifice affects not just us, as organizers, but also our publishing industry colleagues as we miss, once again, the opportunity to meet and do business. We’re certain that the vaccination programs underway across the globe, combined with necessary lockdowns, will be successful in preventing the spread of the virus once and for all, allowing us to bring back BCBF and its parallel initiatives bigger and better than ever next year.”

Details of the coming digital evocation of the show will be forthcoming, of course. Organizers today stress that the planning to date has included digital options all along—clearly the sensible course to take in the fluidity of the international public health crisis—and that a full program of “lectures, illustration exhibitions, conferences, seminars, workshops, and awards” will be online in June.

Highlights Anticipated in the Digital 2021 Bologna

At the 2018 edition of Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Image: BCBF


Presentation of 2021 BCBF Awards:

  • A new BolognaRagazzi Award poetry category
  • A new BolognaRagazzi CrossMedia Award
  • A live announcement of the Bologna Prize Best Children’s Publishers of the Year


  • International conference on children’s poetry in the framework of the BolognaRagazzi Award
  • A workshop on comics translation
  • Third edition of the international conference of children’s bookshops

Illustration Exhibitions: Nine Showcases 

  • Solo Exhibition of Sarah Mazzetti (winner of the BCBF-Fundación SM International Award for Illustration)
  • Online exhibition “Discovering Dante Through Pictures” and a meeting with the authors of the most beautiful children’s books dedicated to Dante Alighieri
  • New edition of the “Italian Excellence” exhibition showcasing the new generation of Italian children’s illustrators

Bologna Book Plus

The programming for the new conference component of the show is said to fall on June 14 with a title of “Forging Forward: The Pandemic–An Interruption or an Opportunity to Think?”

A June 15 focus looks at rights sales and licensing in children’s books, along with an annual literary translation forum.

And a June 16 set of programming is said to be looking at self-publishing in Italy, the Illustrators’ Showcase, and a lecture attached to the “Dante 700” elements of the show.

Image: BCBF

The Coronavirus in Italy

At this writing, the 8:21 p.m. ET (0121 Friday GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 3,717,602 cases in Italy’s population of 60 million, with 112,224 fatalities.

These numbers place Italy at seventh in the world for caseload and sixth in the world for deaths.

As that Washington Post story from Harlan and Noack reveals, “There are questions about why certain young people received their shots. According to the government’s data, some 250,000 people in their 20s and 30s have been given doses even though they are not teachers, health-care workers or law enforcement members—the essential groups. The health ministry did not respond to a question about the rationale for vaccinating those people. In the government data, they are categorized as ‘other,’ or ‘altro.'”

And meanwhile, Reuters Milan reports that on Thursday (April 8), “There were 259 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 276 on Wednesday. The total number of intensive care patients fell slightly to 3,663 from a previous 3,683.”

The Italian population, Reuters reports, now has suffered the second-highest toll in Europe, with only the United Kingdom seeing a higher death toll to COVID-19.

The nation’s coronavirus spread-mitigation measures, levied on many parts of the country around the Easter holiday, now have been extended for the remainder of April.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Italy and its book publishing industry is here. More on Bologna Children’s Book Fair is here, more from us on children’s books is here, and more on world publishing’s trade shows and book fairs is here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.