It has always been on my wish-list to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair while at the same time continue learning Italian, so in March this year that’s what I did.
I booked via Airbnb, a one bedroom apartment in S. Petronio Vecchio, a lovely quiet colonnaded street 15 minutes from Piazza Maggiore the main square in the centre of Bologna. It was a light-filled top-floor apartment with views over the red tiled rooftops of the old town.
There were many things to like about my little home away from home. For one it was out of the tourist centre. It had great natural and overhead lighting which was especially good for illustrating. There were books in almost every room, and balconies, lots of them.
Also, it was very close to a mini mart which sold lovely fresh fruit and vegetables. The fruit and vegetables in Bologna tasted like they used to when I was a kid! I like cooking when I’m away so having a grocery store close by is important. Italian spinach is my new favourite vegetable and as we have a veggie garden, I found the same brand of Italian seeds sold in Bologna online from an Australian supplier. I’m looking forward to having lots of delicious home grown spinach this winter.
Bologna is a city of culture. It has the oldest university in Europe founded in 1088. Many of the museums were once university buildings.
Being a university town, students are everywhere. It was graduation time. Graduating students wear fresh laurel wreaths on their heads and walk around the old town with family and friends. It is such a lovely tradition.
The region is also famous for its food like Parmigiana Reggiano cheese, Parma prosciutto, Modena balsamic vinegar and Barilla pasta.
THE LANGUAGE SCHOOL
For anyone wanting to study Italian, I cannot recommend Madrelingua highly enough. The teachers were wonderful, and fun, which is an important part of language learning especially when it comes to Italian grammar. What’s more the school is conveniently located in the middle of the old town close to Azzoguidi tower on the left in the photo below.
Four hours of class each day for two weeks improved my language skills ten fold. I even felt confident enough to go into shops and try out what I’d learnt. I did test out some words for real though when I had my wallet stolen on the bus. Words like thief, credit card, drivers license and wallet came in handy at the police station.
Bologna Children’s Book Fair had its 55th year. It just goes to show how important children’s books are all around the world.
According to the International Publishers Association there were –
1,278 exhibitors, 24,038 sqm of exhibition area, 26,000 visitors and more than 100 countries represented.
China was 2018 guest of honour.
The fair takes place over four days but by Thursday morning, quite a number of stands have already packed up. The fair finishes around 2.30 on that day.
My first day was spent getting my bearings.
There are 5 halls and each one is huge. In the end it’s about being selective. Apart from the various appointments I had lined up, I made sure I saw the Illustrators’ Exhibition and visited my publisher Penguin Random House Australia. I also visited the SCBWI stand who do a great job internationally supporting children’s authors and illustrators.
Hello! from Australia stand run by Ann James and Ann Haddon of Books Illustrated was my home base.
This year, the Hello! From Australia stand combined with 13 independent Australian publishers: Affirm Press, Allen & Unwin, Berbay Publishing, EC Press, EK Books, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, Little Pink Dog Books, Magabala Books, Melbournestyle Books, MidnightSun Publishing, Quirky Kid, Scribble and Windy Hollow Books.
For the week of the fair, I shared an apartment with the lovely ladies in the photo above. We stayed right in the heart, in Via Clavature, a charming laneway off Piazza Maggiore.
I was one of the Australian illustrators who took part on the Creators’ Table.
I thought I’d be nervous painting in front of people, but it was fun. Someone remarked how mesmerising it is to watch someone paint. I think that’s exactly the right word.
The other illustrators on this year’s Creators’ Table were:
Lee Burgemeestre, Mike Dumbleton, Gus Gordon, Bronwyn Houston, Ann James, Jedda Robaard, Anne Ryan, Owen Swan, Kori Song
One thing about being on the Creators’ Table is the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world. Many I discovered were Italian primary school teachers who come every year. How lucky are they? Others were illustrators or people in education. The publishers and agents are too busy with appointments and don’t have time to walk around.
THE ILLUSTRATORS WALL
As you come through the front entrance of the fair there are walls filled with illustrators’ business cards, postcards and posters. It’s a place to put up a little piece of yourself. You never know what might come out of it.
THE ILLUSTRATORS’ EXHIBITION
One thing not to miss is the Illustrators’ Exhibition.
Here are some of my favourite illustrations.
The fair is about 30 minutes by bus from the old centre. There are special buses for fair goers in the morning which can be caught from the bus stop outside Zara in Via Indipendenza, the main street of Bologna. At the end of the day these buses are also available. Otherwise Bus Number 28 will take you there but be careful of pickpockets especially if the bus is crowded. They come into the Bologna specifically to pick the pockets of tourists and fair goers. The bus driver warned us in Italian and in English about pickpockets as we boarded the bus. I should have paid more attention to the warning. So watch your bags on buses and in the fair too.
Is it worth going? Definitely. If I was solely a children’s author, I’m not sure what I would have gained professionally though. After all it’s a fair for publishers and agents to make book deals. For illustrators it is indeed inspiring. The picture book is alive and well.
I’m already thinking of going again next year especially now that I’ve found a great language school.
Maybe I’ll see you there!
Here’s a delightful video which will give you a taste of the 2018 fair.
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