Some 1,400 exhibitors from more than 70 countries are attending the 56th annual Bologna Children's Book Fair, taking place at the BolognaFiere convention center in Bologna, Italy, through April 4.
Both Shelf Awareness and Bookselling Without Borders, a collection of independent publishers that awards fellowships to American booksellers to attend international book fairs, are making their first trips to Bologna this year. Bookselling Without Borders has sent BWB coordinator Anna Thorn and children's booksellers Clarissa Hadge from Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston, Mass., and Melissa Posten from The Novel Neighbor in Webster Groves, Mo., to the conference to, in founder Michael Reynolds's words, "become a part of an international community of bookselling." "There are some extraordinary stories," Reynolds said, "about courageous, imaginative, passionate, successful booksellers from all over the world getting books into the hands of readers in the most inspiring and beautiful ways. I would love American booksellers to be a part of that."
Reynolds is particularly excited about adding Bologna to BWB's list of international fairs. "Because none of the fairs BWB has been sending booksellers to thus far has focused on children's books," he said, "I think the perception in the bookselling community has been that BWB is not for children's booksellers. Nothing could be further from the truth." He believes that "if we want adult readers in this market to be more open to diverse and international voices, we have to get to them while they're young," which means "introducing them to global voices, works in translations, international artists and writers when their tastes and predilections are forming." With one of BCBF's focuses this year being "books by and about people of color," Reynolds looks "forward to seeing what kind of ideas the BWB booksellers encounter and what they contribute to the fair in this area and others."
BWB coordinator Anna Thorn won the Turin, Italy, fellowship last year and has been engaged with the program ever since: "Since I first heard of Bookselling Without Borders, I was captivated by the concept. I lived abroad as a kid and I've been a bookseller for most of my adult life, so the ideas of bringing more international literature to the U.S. and bringing more U..S booksellers to international fairs were both important to me." Thorn is the "only actual employee of the program" and, in her role, coordinates fellows' travel plans and itineraries while at the fairs. She also uses her BWB work to help expand her own personal project, Bookstore Vagabond, "a year-long tour of indie bookstores beginning in May (on Instagram and online)." Thorn will be "visiting lots of bookstores and talking with booksellers, publishers, readers and authors" with the goal of celebrating indies and telling "stories about the book industry today."
Thorn, Hadge and Posten will be visiting bookstores and speaking with booksellers in addition to attending the fair. This year's BCBF is particularly focused on illustration. The "Guest Country" is Switzerland, "a small country with an amazingly lively mix of cultures," and the country's exhibition, "The ABC of Switzerland," focuses on its art of illustration. The 53rd annual Illustrator's Exhibition features the work of 76 artists from 27 countries and regions, their pieces chosen from a pool of 14,505 individual works created by artists representing 62 countries. There are also three solo exhibits--Russian illustrator Igor Oleynikov, Croatian artist Vendi Vernić and Masha Titova--and an art show titled "Our Voice," which celebrates 50 years of the Coretta Scott King Award. Following along with this celebration of the CSK Award, one of the fair's main themes this year--alongside "China: A Huge Market for Children's Books" and "Handwriting in the Digital Era"--is "AfroAmerican Culture: Black Books Matter." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness