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Bologna Children’s Book Fair – be careful what you wish for

By May 3, 2017September 27th, 2019No Comments

Frances Plumpton reports

I first visited the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in April 1989 when I took a side trip from my Winston Churchill tour investigating library services for young children in the UK. My first impression then was the range of stands from all around the world. I was envious of the Australian Publishers Association stand which housed 25 publishers, and the Canadian stand an exhibition housing 48 publishers. New Zealand was represented solely by Wendy Pye’s Good Parent stand. Any other NZ publishers were not visible.

I do recall seeing the beginnings of series fiction and the emergence of the remarkable Dorling Kindersley non-fiction series.

I have attended the Bologna Children’s Book Fair as an agent since 2007, representing a selection of NZ children’s books as well as IBBY NZ and also the Australian East/NZ Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators. When Nicky Page and Trish Brooking first approached me about the possibility of a stand in Bologna I must admit that I was sceptical that they would be successful, giving the short time frame. Unfortunately Julia Marshall of Gecko Press who has been a constant attendee, was already committed to another stand. I had not yet booked my table in the Agent Centre and was also aware that Sophie Siers of Millwood Press and Mary McCallum of Makaro Press also intended to come and would be welcome support on a stand.

Nicky’s very strong and focussed proposal on behalf of Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature was accepted and she and Trish immediately began organising all the resources for the display, working with writers and illustrators based in Dunedin and recipients of the University of  Otago College of Education Children’s Writers residency.

The very strong support from Giorgia Boldrini, director of Bologna UNESCO City of Music whose inspiration was behind the sponsorship of the stand and her colleague Francesca Vacchetti was invaluable. Unfortunately Mary McCallum had to withdraw from the trip to Bologna but remained in the background as a strong support and Sophie Siers of Millwood Press and I were the representatives at the Fair.

Nicky’s attention to detail culminated in an eye catching stand with open bookshelves inviting browsers for the Dunedin linked books and an area for formal meetings. The exhibition was supported with a booklist and documentation of rights available for each title.

As well as the designated stands, Bologna attracts a lot of agents and smaller publishers who come for a day or two on a visitors pass, working a mix of appointments and browsing the halls and our open stand attracted many of these. It was soon obvious that there were many passers-by with a connection to NZ or Dunedin and we recorded these informally in a notebook. These included a Chinese professor who had spent the previous year at Otago University, a Turkish Agent who had commissioned Janet Frame titles when she was an editor several years ago and an American reviewer who had backpacked around NZ in his teens in ’92 with fond memories of his time in Dunedin.

Sophie and I talked with many publishers and editors who called in and were able to pass on interest in many of the books on display to their NZ rights holders. I held the majority of meetings on the stand and there was a lot of interest in the UNESCO connection. In hindsight, this has been a very interesting and positive experience. Giorgia Boldrini is keen to explore further links with Dunedin, there has been an active interest in many of the exhibited titles.

Nicky Page and Trish Brooking are to be congratulated on preparing such a professional proposal within a challenging time-frame, followed by meticulous attention to detail supported by the Dunedin design team with the stunning display material culminating in a stand that showcased the vibrant Dunedin children’s literature community.

This would not have been possible without Sophie Siers and her stalwart duties on the stand and Mary McCallum for her background support.

And next year? We’re working on it . . .