by Ellen Myrick, Publisher Spotlight Founder
In 2023, the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair felt alive with crowds of authors, artists, publishers, and other book-adjacent professionals surging through the halls of Bologna’s business district, its famous fiere. Each region of the world displays in its own fair pavilion, giving the five halls a loose order. Through these pavilions pass the world’s children’s publishers who come together for four days to buy and sell rights, discover new talent, learn from the many educational sessions, and celebrate the best children’s book creators and publishers.
It had been six years since I last visited this beautiful medieval city. My routine for many years had been to attend Bologna in odd numbered years, saving the evens for the Public Library Association. On the day before I was due to leave for Bologna back in 2019, my foot got caught in a telephone line while we were doing a final walk-through of our new office space. As I crashed to the hard cement floor I thought “There goes Bologna.” And then there was the pandemic.
Lucky me to be back in action and back at the book fair! The person standing in line next to me for the shuttle to fiere was the fabulous Betsy Bird who was covering the book fair for School Library Journal Do catch her writeup here. It always delights me when one of our Publisher Spotlight publishers surprise Betsy by bringing her favorites from Bologna to North American readers, too.
Because so many of our clients are based abroad, Bologna is an ideal place to connect in person. My first stop was to the Republic of Ireland booth where I met up with Little Island publisher Matthew Parkinson Bennett and editor Elizabeth Goldrick to talk about how their first year in North America was going. Successes include Meg Grehan’s Baby Teeth being named a Kirkus Best Book, several starred reviews, and four reviews in The New York Times Book Review. Best of all, they are bringing three authors—Dierdre Sullivan, Savage Her Reply; Patricia Forde, The Girl Who Fell to Earth; and Sam Thompson, Wolfstongue—to New York City and Boston in late September!
The next stop was spent lurking in the French pavilion with Julia Marshall and Rachel Lawson of Gecko Press. Based in New Zealand, Gecko has carved out a special niche for bringing beautiful and fun-filled translated chapter books to North America and Julia was on the hunt! Gecko Press won Bologna’s Publisher of the Year (Oceania) in 2017, the first year that distinction was bestowed.
Keeping with the southern hemisphere theme, I next visited the Australia booth to meet Alexandra Yatomi-Clarke and Nancy Consecu of Berbay Publishing for the first time in person. There’s always that moment of knowing you know them and the delight of finally seeing more than just the top third Zoom provides! Berbay has been in North America for two years now and has had books selected by Junior Library Guild including my favorite Tish by Edwina Wyatt.
Translator and book guru Lawrence Schimel took a few moments from his busy Bologna schedule to talk with me about Letters in Charcoal, and his work on that forthcoming book from Lantana Publishing by Irene Vasco with illustrations by Juan Palomino. Lantana has a special way with stories from places we don’t often hear about in North America, and this story of a child learning to read in remote Colombia will make young readers think and feel. I also caught up with Alice Curry, Lantana’s publisher, and we talked about how Lantana’s original mission with the tagline “kids deserve to see themselves in the books they read” has evolved as more publishers are focusing on diverse and inclusive books. Lantana is broadening their original mission, and kids are clearly, and rightfully, the winners. Check out Listening to the Quiet by Cassie Silva with illustrations by Frances Ives, on the Fall list for a good example of how Lantana has expanded the universe of diverse books.
The next morning brought another chance shuttle queue encounter, this time with Red Comet Press’ Angus Yuen-Killick. Red Comet has brought several books to the United States from France, Italy, and even Ukraine. We especially loved seeing Yellow Butterfly splashed across a large wall in its originating publisher’s booth.
I hurried from the Ukraine booth to Czechia and the gigantic Albatros Media booth where I was meeting up with Marc Aronson, Doris Gebel, and students from Rutgers University. Pavla Fortelna of Albatros told the class a bit about Albatros and then showed off books currently available and a few that are forthcoming. Marc was especially taken with The Young Photographers, by Jiri Foreit and Tereza Nova and
Illustrated by Nikola Logosova, a book on photography for ages 12 and up that encourages readers to look at the world differently.
Flowerpot Press, at home in Canada and the United States, called out to Bologna visitors with Cultured Donuts at their delicious booth. I enjoyed catching up with publisher Anne Hayes. She was having a very successful day of selling rights for Donuts and for all of her energetic and kid-friendly titles.
Another client whom I got to meet for the first time was Marta Fernandez of NubeOcho in Spain, seen here with a few of their newest offerings. NubeOcho’s Spanish books marketed in the United States are specifically offered in the Spanish of the Americas, making their books perennial favorites at the Guadalajara Book Fair, the Texas Library Association, and any place that is committed to offering books in Spanish to kids in the Western Hemisphere.
The afternoon was devoted to UK-based publishers who were spread across a couple of halls. Ziggy Hanaor of Cicada Books and Sarah Pakenham of Scallywag Press shared a space that enabled them to show their offerings to their best advantage. I was thrilled to hear that the upcoming Fall release from Cicada of Lidia Brankovic’s The Grand Hotel of Feelings had already been licensed to seven countries—unheard of for a debut author-illustrator. Scallywag Press was also fielding several opportunities for titles discovered and nurtured by Sarah, whose decades of experience at Andersen Press helped tremendously.
The last publisher meeting of the day was with our newest client, John Mendelson of Nosy Crow. I’ve been a long-time fan of their books and need very little encouragement to do storytime with one of their first books on the new list, How to Count to One (And Don’t Even THINK About Bigger Numbers!) by Caspar Salmon and Matt Hunt. Their nonfiction is also spectacular as evidenced by Goddess, coming in the Fall. Nosy Crow’s presence stood out from the crowd (which is not easy to do) with its bold red frame and stunning covers.
Publishing for children and teens around the world is alive and well and I cannot wait to show you the new books on the horizon!