I’ve been wanting to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for several years now. It’s the biggest annual event in children’s books, making it an incredibly exciting place for a writer / illustrator. Now I knew it was a massive event, but this was purely an intellectual concept. It’s a bit like being told about a stampede, as opposed to standing in the middle of one. A glorious stampede, mind you. A stampede of colourful stuff from a child’s imagination.
The fair is “the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing industry”, and includes authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers and librarians, all meeting up to sell and buy and meet and produce and discover all things to do with kids books. Sound exciting? It was.
There were 1200 exhibitors. From 66 countries. With 5000 professional trade representatives. And the exhibition covered over 20,000 square meters of floor space. Plus the fair was celebrating its 50th year. Now I may specialise in words, but those numbers sound pretty impressive to me. Here’s the sight I walked in on – this is one fifth of one side of one hall out of four, on the first and quietest morning:
I spent three inspiring days wandering around the fair and being involved in all its amazing busy-ness. I got to meet up with the head of my American publishing house (Viking / Penguin) who was passionate and humble and funny and charming and all things you would want from a publisher. I also had an amazing meeting with my American agent, talking picture books and characters and lots of ideas for new projects to come. I got to spend time with the incredible ladies from Books Illustrated, Ann James and Ann Haddon, who are super supportive of Australia children’s book creators and who ran the stand that became my home for fair. They ran a live illustration table where I made art alongside some very talented Aussie artists (Alison Lester, Isobelle Carmody, Briony Stewart and of course Ann James). While illustrating I got to meet passers by who stopped to chat – other artists and publishers from all over the world. But none of this quite captures the spirit of the fair. No, that is best done with photos.
Here’s my US publisher’s stand. It was full of books and well-dressed-important-types and take away coffee cups. This was a quiet moment captured on the first morning of an otherwise bustling stand:
Here is the Books Illustrated stand, and the two awesome Anns setting it up. See if you can spot the Brave Squish Rabbit cover and the feature illustration from the book:
Doing live illustrations (with my terrible paintbrush grip – such a lefty):
More live illustrating, using papers I’d collected on the trip so far (you can just see a couple of the drawings I’d already done in front):
One of my favourite stands, a European publisher called Edelvives who make gorgeous books:
There were quite literally hundreds of different publisher stands. So many books! Some funny:
But mostly just awesome. Lots and lots of awesome books:
And more. How cute are these guys?:
But it wasn’t all just a bunch of people standing around talking about books. Sometimes it was a bunch of people standing around drinking and talking about books. Here we’re preparing for the Australian Publisher’s Association party (while Boori gets in some sneaky self promotion):
And here we might be at the Irish Publisher’s Association party drinking whisky (all in the name of being culturally appropriate and warming the winter chest plate):
I’d heard about the famous ‘illustrator wall’, where you can pin an illustration that people peruse throughout the fair. All up there were actually about eight walls. Here is one on the very first morning:
And here it is again on day three:
And this is what an author looks like after three days of wandering halls, reading, illustrating, meetings, being inspired and overwhelmed and just generally feeling like a very small fish in a big pond:
Luckily, we were in Italy, so there was always good food at the end of the day. Salute!