Felicity Trotman brought back this report from the 21st annual International Children’s Book Fair which took place at the beginning of April.
Like so many Italian cities. Bologna has a long and impressive history. Its earliest origins are Etruscan, then it became a Roman colony. The middle ages were as stormy here as anywhere in Italy: the town acquired a university, saw the coronation of the Emperor Charles V, and was captured by the French. Today it is a thriving Communist administered town with two towers, a dozen or so splendid palaces, 21 miles of arcaded streets – and a tradition of running major international trade fairs. On the outskirts of the town the purpose-built fair ground is the site of at least six major events each year. The Spring children’s book fair is one of the biggest: it brings publishers, booksellers, literary agents, artists, writers, printers and others connected with books from all over the world. The town is packed out: it’s almost impossible to get a bed, and the pavilions housing publishers’ exhibits are thronged.
The main purpose of the fair for publishers is to sell foreign rights. This is particularly important for publishers of picture books and non-fiction. Colour printing is enormously expensive and to recover costs it’s necessary to print as many copies as possible. Sales in any one country are obviously limited: to have a large (and economical) print run it is necessary to link up with publishers from another country who will use the same pictures with a translated text. This suits companies who want to originate books and those who prefer to acquire a title without the large investment of money and time that that involves. Many publishers are involved in both sorts of publishing so will be buying and selling. Fiction without colour artwork is cheaper to produce: but good stories are appreciated all over the world and many publishers are looking out for them.
For British publishers, America is perhaps the most important of all the countries at the fair. An American co-edition can be the decider in whether a picture book gets published or not. With over 100 British publishers exhibiting and nearly 80 Americans, that represents a lot of business. But there are also strong links with many other countries. Japan, Scandinavia. Holland, Germany and France all have flourishing children’s book trades and Britain buys many titles as well as selling. I’m not being chauvinistic when I report that British children’s books are the best in the world. The swarms of visitors to the British hall. all hunting for the new, the unexpected and the excellent are clear proof of that. Just to give you a flavour of some of the deals that were made: Chinese reading children will soon be able to make the acquaintance of Michael Foreman and Helen Piers’ Longneck and Thunderfoot and of Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books. The Bodley Head Your Body series will appear in Arabic, Peter Spier’s People is going into its 18th language (Lappish) and Brambly Hedge notched up its 14th foreign edition.
The English language, although dominant, is of course only one of many. I saw books in Lappish, Catalan, Arabic, Chinese, Welsh and Tagalogue as well as the major European languages. Sixty countries were represented this year, though some, from the Third World weren’t selling. They had come to try to arrange deals that would allow them to purchase books for schools at rates that will not cripple their frail economies.
The fair lasts for four days, officially – from 9.00 a.m. until 6.30 p.m. Most standholders arrive at least the day before the opening to unpack books and set up. Then, since the opportunity of meeting people who are usually half the world away is too good to miss engagements are made for breakfast, before the fair opens each morning, over lunch, over dinner and late into the night. It’s a constant round of meeting, talking, looking at artwork, proofs and texts and making deals.
Many publishers take the opportunity to hold parties. The most talked about this year were the Norwegian party, with publishers in splendid blue and scarlet national dress offering guests smoked reindeer meat: and the reception given by Cape and Intervisual Communications Incorporated (they are the people responsible for most of the pop-ups around) for Jonathan Miller to celebrate the huge success of the pop-up The Human Body. Everyone wanted a preview of the follow-up book The Facts of Life which has caused an even bigger stir. There was a Bodley Head party for Maurice Sendak to celebrate their securing the rights to his version of The Nutcracker in the face of a good deal of competition: and a Macmillan one for Jill Murphy. The Dutch were much in evidence: every one of their 21 stands was decorated with armfuls of stunning daffodils, and they had an official visit from their ambassador.
In all this activity it is pleasing to report that the book trade seems to be looking up. Last year world-wide recession meant that it was difficult to find buyers. This year there was an optimistic note: most publishers seemed cautiously cheerful. The projects unveiled at Bologna each Spring are the books we will see in the shops in the autumn or the following Spring. I toured the stands to see what is on the way. As well as The Facts of Life (which seems to have sold to everyone except Denmark) Intervisual had some exciting new pop-ups: Leonardo da Vinci by Alice and Martin Provenson which Hutchinson will be publishing, Ron van der Meer’s Sailing Ships which, like the new Robert Crowther, they are doing with Kestrel and a pop-up Winnie-the-Pooh for Methuen. Julia MacRae bought Anita Lobel’s The Night before Christmas from Random House and sold them Anthony Browne’s latest, Willy the Wimp. Colin and Jacqui Hawkins were brought to the fair by several publishers. For newcomers, Piccadilly Press they have done a flap book, Old Mother Hubbard and for Heinemann a picture book full of furry animals, Snap! Snap!. Heinemann also had on show a sumptuous picture book. Christmas, by Jan Pienkowski, a Nursery Story Book with pictures by Helen Oxenbury and a new series of stories for 7-9’s, Banana Books. Cape had exciting new books from two of their best known artists – The Dancing Frog by Quentin Blake and Grandad by John Burningham. The last of Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books was on show on the Bodley Head stand. An Evening at Alfie’s has Alfie and his babysitter coping with a burst pipe. Editor Margaret Clark bought the latest picture book from Anno. Also buying from the States was editor David Grant, from Hamish Hamilton who took the new Eric Carle, The Very Busy Spider. Andersen Press were having an international success with David McKee’s Mr Browser series and Tony Ross’ Towser. In the Attic by the Mother Goose-winning team, of Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura was considered by some people the most interesting book at the fair. My New Family, about long-term fostering will be out from Dinosaur in the autumn and there were 80 new projects and 106 new books scheduled from Walker Books some of which will not be out until 1986. What we will see this year are their Red-nose Readers for 7-9’s and some quality picture books by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Colin McNaughton and Jan Ormerod. At both ends of the age-range was Patrick Hardy Books with a very funny picture book Mr Bodger’s Jumping Hat and a tough novel for teenagers set in the future, Breaking Glass by Brian Morse.
There are moments when the fair seems like the Tower of Babel, when in all the welter of publishers selling books to each other, printers selling manufacturing, artists looking for publishers, booksellers looking for stock, Mickey Mouse look-alike comics, exhibitions of computers and software, seminars on book distribution in Latin America. parties, prizes and razzmatazz, when one’s feet are aching and one’s mind is boggling one wonders whether the whole thing is crazy. But we need Bologna – not just because of setting up co-editions and selling books – but for the stimulus of being able to exchange news and views, to look, read and above all talk with people from all over the world who are engaged in the business of getting books to children.