Children's Books Ireland

Bologna Children's Book Fair 2019 - Notes for Children's Writers and Illustrators

I had the great fortune to spend three days at this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair. The last time I visited was many years ago and a lot has changed since then – it’s bigger and far glitzier, with some stunning stands full of outstanding children’s books from around the world.


This year there was a huge emphasis on two areas of children’s books – MG (middle grade – age 8/9+) fiction and creative nonfiction. Many publishers had their own range of history books focusing on remarkable women from their country – that was really interesting to see and my latest book, Blazing a Trail: Irish Women who Changed the World definitely fits this mold. I was thrilled to see O’Brien Press displaying Blazing and also A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea on their stand.

There were also a lot of natural history books on display – all lushly illustrated. The MG fiction ranged from our own Catherine Doyle’s The Stormkeeper’s Island (most notably on the Italian stand, to mystery books and fantasy adventures.

The Bookseller said in their fair magazine: ‘Middle Grade titles have been the hottest properties at this year’s fair.’

Picturebooks were also prominently on display – however I did wonder was this due to the fact that they are ideal for catching people’s attention with their strong, colourful covers.

The lack of YA being displayed really stood out. There were few YA titles on display or in the publisher’s foreign rights catalogues.

Scout Natasha Farrant said (again in The Bookseller): ‘Quite a few of my Northern European clients say that young people are reading YA in English… It’s making the YA market (for translations) more difficult.’

The range of titles on display was breath taking – it made me realise that we only see a fraction of what’s being published in Irish bookshops as so few books are translated from other languages into English.

So kudos must go to publishers like Little Island who are translating children’s titles from other languages (esp German) into English.

After talking to many of the Irish illustrators attending the fair – they were showing their portfolios to editors and art directors – I realised just how hard they work. They make up dummies of many different books in the hope of selling at least one. There were many successes at the fair for Irish illustrators – watch this space for more on that.

Authors were mainly there to connect with their foreign publishers and/or to soak up the atmosphere and to find out about the international market for children’s books. Judi Curtin visited her Serbian publisher’s stand and was given a hero’s welcome – her books are very big in Serbia! There also lots of talks and workshops to attend, and exhibitions to view.

CBI (Children’s Books Ireland) hosted a very attractive Irish stand, designed by Steve McCarthy, to promote Irish talent to the international children’s book world. It also acted as a hub for the children’s writers and illustrators at the fair. Well done to them – it’s an important role.


The Irish Writers and Illustrators (and friends) at the CBI Stand

The Irish Writers and Illustrators (and friends) at the CBI Stand

There were surprisingly few American stands at the fair (unless I missed them) – but a lot of stands from Japan and China which I found fascinating, plus a super one from Taiwan, filled with artwork.

Other interesting areas – there are lots of books featuring and for children with extra needs being published. There is still a demand for books featuring inspirational women and men – popular history books with a creative edge.

Would I advise attending? 100%. It’s an expensive enough trip but the direct flights from Dublin (Ryanair) make it easier. Go with an open mind and bring a bag with you for catalogues and postcards. Wear comfy shoes. Bring food and water. And ask Jenny from CBI about the ‘secret toilets’!

It made me realise a couple of really important things:

1/ The world is a lot bigger but also a lot smaller than you think – walk the aisles with an open mind, try not to get overwhelmed by the talent on show and you will be hugely inspired.

2/ Talent combined with tenacity and a LOT of hard work will get you places.

3/ You can be ‘reborn’ at any stage of your career – age doesn’t matter if you’ve produced something really original and exciting.

4/ The children’s book world is vibrant, exciting and really, really matters to a whole heap of people from all over the world – this is so heartening.

See you at the fair in 2020!