Ever heard about the Bologna Children’s Book Fair? It is the world’s leading international event for children’s book publishers and illustrators. This year, Bologna hosted its 43rd one and a new member of PingMag (who is crazy about children’s books) went to report from the beautiful Italian city of Bologna! Read on about book design around the world, illustrators’ idea exchange and how to find the editor which suits you best.
Written by Mayalina
In recent years, interest in the field of children’s picture books has grown immensely as an exciting new medium for artistic expression. Ever since 1964, Bologna has hosted this specialist book fair every spring where publishers, editors, illustrators, authors, researchers, students, librarians and many other children’s book lovers gather for four days: to trade, discuss new projects, and discover new talents.
Notorious amongst publishers and illustrators as the gateway to becoming a children’s book illustrator, the number of both amateur and professional artists visiting Bologna seems to grow yearly. This was the third time I visited the fair and every year I am amazed by the number of international artists who visit and the variety of children’s books publishers that exist on this planet!
Companies proudly display their books across thousands of bookshelves likewise:
It is amazing just to see how many books there are in the world and what different cultures perceive as being so-called “children’s books”.
For French publishers comics and manga were also treated as “children’s books”.
You are free to take a look at any book you like, many of them absolutely new to even a children’s book connoisseur as they often haven’t travelled outside their native countries before.
There are countless books to see and very unfortunately you can’t buy books at the fair! … but, maybe that’s a good thing (at least it was for my wallet).
However, there are lots of goodies to take with you: thousands of pretty company brochures, bags and post cards.
I also fell in love with some Korean books (they are definitely hot at the moment!) and since I kept coming back to the Korean stands, one of the editors kindly gave me one of my favourite Korean books as a present!
Thousands of artists visit Bologna every year, all of them aspiring to become future children’s book illustrators. And what is so wonderful bout Bologna is that artists, both amateur and professional can show their works directly to editors from across the world!
Many editors spend hours looking through hundreds of portfolios a day in search of future stars.
Sometimes artists find companies that wish to publish their works right away. If not, they certainly get lots of useful feedback for next time.
Illustrators frantically running around with their enormous portfolios
editors looking throught hundrets of portfolios each day
Another way artists advertise their works is by pinning their pictures and contact details onto the famous billboards that are set up each year near the entrance to the fair. These boards quickly become packed with advertisements, business cards, eye-catching posters and pictures.
The best part of the fair is the Illustrator’s Exhibition displaying the prize-winning illustrations from the annual Bologna Illustrators Competition (the most prestigious international competition for children’s book illustration). Both professional and amateur artists are selected by an international jury and this year, 2,544 artists from 59 countries submitted their works of which 92 artists from 17 countries were chosen.
Now guess how many Japanese winners there were! A startling 27 out of 92 total winners!No wonder Japanese illustrators are so well-regarded!
I got to talk to some of them. Minako Chiba was the first one.
Minako Chiba in front of her award-winning works at the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition
An award-winning picture by Chiba Minako
This was the first time Minako Chiba entered the competition and her work definitely deserved the award. Just look at this character called Mocha pouring coffee from her head!
Shinichi Maruoka won the competition for a second year in a row.
Shinichi Maruoka in front of his award-winning works at the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition
Apparently he was told that his pictures didn’t suit the children’s book market in Japan, they were too artistic and grown-up. Yet, when he won the award last year, he went around publishers in Bologna and found a Belgian publisher that was incredibly interested in his work and he is now preparing to publish a book!
This exhibition not only offers an opportunity for artists to showcase their talent in front of the most prestigious professionals of the trade, it also offers an insight into most innovative trends in the world of children’s illustration for us viewers.
For instance, I was very surprised by the extremely talented Iranian children’s book artists I came across at the fair!
Here is a wonderful award winning work by Morteza Zahedi. I couldn’t find a website for him but I found out, that he actually exhibits in Japan!
If you are interested in having a taste of Bologna, the Illustrators exhibition travels annually to the Itabashi Art Museum in Japan!
Shin Tanaka and his newly published book
Non prize-winning artists also visit the fair and sometimes go home with publishing contracts. Shin Tanaka got a publishing contract with a Taiwanese publishing company called Grimm Press last year and had his first children’s book published this year.
According to the artists I met in Bologna, even if your works are not accepted by some companies or even by your native country, one very often finds a publisher that likes your work at Bologna. Publishers are always on the look out for new artists and ideas and most importantly, you can talk to editors face to face, and they always take your work very seriously.
So, if you are an aspiring illustrator, why not give the fair a try!? In case you are a shy Japanese: there is no need to be scared if speaking English isn’t your forte: the JBBY (The Japanese Board on Books for Young people) are always there to help!
Bologna is a great staring point for talented young artists. A great place to boost up your network and most of all: get inspired!
See you next year!?