Finding a publisher at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair

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.

Each stand represents a publishing company (or group of companies) both major and minor. The stands are sorted by country, each with their own distinctive colour.

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!

The Taiwan stand was bright and colourful, their books definitely unique!

Companies proudly display their books across thousands of bookshelves likewise:

A shelf from a small group of independent French publishers

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.

The stand for Bronze Publishing from Japan displayed lots of sweet little books.
Edizioni Corraini one of my favourite Italian publishers. Their Bruno Munari books are fabulous!

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.

Just a few of all the brochures I picked up

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!

Deepest Thanks!

My lovely Korean book called Four strokes and a Half, by Seok-Jung Yun, illustrated by Young-Gyeong Yi from Changbi Publishers

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!

Artists will queue forever to have editors look at their works. They simply never give up!

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 very high quality of all these little notes was stunning! I couldn’t help but taking some of them …

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.

An Award winning picture by Shinichi Maruoka

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!

work by Iranian artist Morteza Zahedi

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!

Intricately sewn award winning illustrations by Nada Azimi

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.

Comments by artists who got publishing deals at the fair

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!

The JBBY have a service counter run by helpful Japanese staff

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!?

  • http://www.rbnet.it/ Roberto

    Benvenuti in Italia ;)

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  • Pingback: Drawn! The Illustration Blog » Blog Archive » Shinichi Maruoka and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair

  • http://www.humancull.com Alex

    Inspirational!

  • http://www.hildarose.blogspot.com HildaRose

    For over 15 years I have wanted to go to this show. Thanks for making it so real. Spent some time on the Bolgna site and took a look at the images. Interesting to see where the trend is going. Thanks.

  • http://candygourlay.com/blog Candy Gourlay

    hi, thank you for the great pics of the bologna fair – i posted some mobile phone shots of some of the illustrations on display at the fair. i was particularly taken by a mini exhibition on the message board by japanese artist kana yamada http://candygourlay.com/blog/2006/03/bologna-2006-illustrator-kana-yamada.html and by taiwanese artist jimmy lao http://candygourlay.com/blog/2006/03/bologna-2006-illustrator-jimmy-liao.html
    mind blowing!

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