My trip to Bologna and most importantly the Bologna Book Fair.

A Bologna local assured me that, “It will happen when Galvani turns the page”.

She was of course referencing the stone statue in the middle of town, however I long felt this way about ever getting to see the famous children’s book fair.

However I did make it to Bologna and found myself arriving late and tired in a city unlike any I have visited… this was in fact my first visit to Italy. I was feeling a little overwhelmed in this different world until I established that Franca, our apartment host, had once taught English only a few miles from home. After a good night’s sleep, I sauntered forth with the assurance that it really is a small world.

However this feeling blew away as I arrived at the Bologna Book Fair.

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My oblique view of the Bologna Book Fair.

(Bologna Book Fair Entrance at a quieter moment)

A children’s book fair is no place for children.

(The illustrator’s exhibition)

It is quite confronting to enter the gates of the world’s biggest children’s book industry fair. My immediate thought was how very far away all this in front of me is, from the quiet little corner where I usually live and work.

I contemplated the physical and mental space from which a book is created to eventually … hopefully … sit among this throng of people and the thousands of other books now on display here.

One very big advantage of going to the fair is that you are likely to meet friends and acquaintances from the publishing world.

(Leigh Hobbs – Australian Children’s Laureate)

(Bruce Whatley and Rosie Smith)

My hub for tracking down folks is the Hello from Australia stand. After checking in with industry stalwarts Ann James and Ann Haddon( who organize the stand and do the heavy lifting every year at the fair), I stopped in a couple times every day to see some familiar faces.

(Meetings in a publisher’s stand which was repeated throughout the halls).

As I wandered around the many stalls, I noticed the business types who were all sitting upright in their temporary offices; dressed in nice suits, crisp shirts and shiny shoes. They were in stark contrast to the creative types; that stalked up and down the halls draped in organic cotton with felt shoes and leggings that were doodled on that morning while waiting for the bus.

(A line up of illustrators waiting for a folio viewing).

Many publishers offer illustrator folio viewings and I could see long queues of these snaking around the stalls while they waited to have their art reviewed.

(The shrinkage effect of waiting to be reviewed)

 I freely admit that participating in such things used to frighten me out of my Alice in Wonderland tights. The biggest problem with waiting alongside other (most probably) brilliant illustrators, in these long lines, is the resulting personal shrinkage.

(Some editors even chose camouflage among the books for sanctuary).

I went about my daily business attending appointments and even joined one illustrator queue. All the while I watched the business of the fair unfold, when a curious thing happened to this Alice. Towards the end of one meeting I sat there trying to politely drink a coffee that had long since cooled when the publisher mentioned how she gets teary at a certain point in each fair. She suggested other publishers have admitted feeling the same.

(The other side of the table)

While I sat across the table and listened to this highly successful publisher it dawned on me that the fair is an exhausting and emotional experience at times; for me to put forward my best work all … in hope. However it is obviously also exhausting from the other side of the table as well.

(My illustrating demonstration at the ‘Hello from Australia’ stand).

But that is exactly why coming to a place where all the elements of the children’s literature industry meet and mingle is such an edifying experience. What happens here on a large scale is of course intimately connected to what we as writers and illustrators and publishers do on a daily basis.

(Looking at the IBBY stand).

Having such a large gathering displays the diverse choice of great books in this thriving industry. It also gives a platform and voice to worthy bodies such asIBBY for instance, who highlighted during their press conference, the need for good books for children who currently can’t access them.

Amidst the noise and business, it is often a challenge to remember that we are all working toward that one goal at the end of the day …  a child with a beautiful book in his or her hands.