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Bologna – The Book Fair

The four days of the Book Fair were the usual roller-coaster of ups and downs, hopes, lessons, delights, disappointments, inspirations, resolutions and finally, exhausted satisfaction. Here are my personal highlights, on the Facebook Bologna Connections page you can find a lot more photos and videos.

Successes for friends and associates were apparent from the first day. David Almond has won the Hans Andersen Award. Fantastic news, well done David! Equally amazing was seeing Holly Thompson‘s book Orchards emblazoned in prominent view on the Random House Stand. I’ve known David since he presented a talk for SCBWI Tokyo some years ago, an event hosted and co-organized by my dear friend Holly, the Tokyo Regional Advisor. Seeing them both exhalted at the Fair seemed to pull all the threads of my former life in Japan together.

I thought the US had some fine picture books on show this year, especially Chronicle, who published Jeremy Holmes’ lovely There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, a Bologna Opera Prima winner. The UK Stands were quite eye-opening. The bigger established houses were all very busy, with a wide coverage of work. My upcoming non-fiction book with Frances Lincoln Outside-In was prominently displayed, apparently the rights have been sold to several countries.

I noticed many small independant producers from the UK that I’d not heard of before, often focusing on mass-market commercial or educational material. There seemed a clear dividing line at the Fair between books targeted directly at sales, and those for a more sophisticated collectors market. It’s great to see the latter flourishing in all the economic gloom. Seeing award-winning books like Holmes’ Old Woman, or Ronald and Marije Tolman’s De Boomhut (The Treehouse) (Lemniscaat) really made me think that the future for picture books is looking bright.

I always find the European stands a great inspiration, and this year was no exception. Many people mentioned France in particular as very strong this year. “Great books, and they manage to sell them in a limited market” one US editor mentioned, “I wish I knew how they do it”. I suspect it’s a similar case to Japan, a comic-reading culture that’s perhaps more closely atuned to graphic images than it’s neighbours, and thus perhaps more supportive of creative picture books.

One of my great finds at the Fair (thanks to a tip-off) were some signed limited edition prints by Roberto Innocenti (from Pinocchio and The House),  he was briefly at the Fair, though I sadly missed him due to conflicting meetings. For exactly the same reason I also missed a talk given at the Illustrator’s Café by Shaun Tan, another of my heroes. However I did get chance to meet Kveta Pacovska, her book The Little Flower King is one of my all time favorites. 

I think I established a presence at the Fair, the very first event at the SCBWI Stand was a showcase of my work. Perhaps a little early for most publishers to see, but nevertheless a neat display. Later the same day Doug Cushman and I ran a Sketching Duel event which seemed to pull in a good crowd. Susan Derks De Sola Rodstein “donated” an as-yet-to-be published picture book manuscript, Doug and I had to illustrate passages against the clock as they were read out. It was a tough challenge, but a lot of fun.  The SCBWI Stand was busy with events and showcases throughout the Fair, international regions across the world staging increasingly elaborate and fascinating displays. We also had a Display Portfolio of illustrator’s work which really promoted the wide range of talent in the regions. 

Almost the last highlight before I was obliged to head home earlier than expected (air ticket problems) was Leonard Marcus’s talk in the Illustrator’s Café on Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, a book that revolutionised picture books in the mid 20th Century. Leonard’s biography Margaret Wise Brown – Awakened by the Moon is a fascinating read, his talk was once more warm and captivating.  I’ll cherish many memories of this year’s Bologna, though I’ve no particular book deal announcements to make (yet) it was a great success, I was enabled to get the most out of the occasion largely due to my friends in SCBWI, so special thanks to Kathleen Ahrens, Bridget Strevens, Erzsi Deak, Angela Cerrito and all the RA volunteers. 

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