Bologna 2023: Visiting the Bologna Children’s Book Fair as it Celebrates 60

By Elisabeth Norton

Spotlight image: Sarah Baker and Jess Racklyeft at the SCBWI booth at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

This year Bologna Children’s Book Fair celebrated its 60th fair. I asked three visitors to this year’s fair to share more about their experiences with the readers of Cynsations.

Arthur A. Levine is the founder of Levine Querido books.
Sanne Dufft is an author/illustrator from Tübingen, Germany.
Sarah Baker is the Executive Director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

What was your primary purpose in attending the fair?

Arthur: To experience the delight and variety of the world’s best creators of books for young people (and to share Levine Querido’s!).

Sanne: Living in the South of Germany, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is just an eight-hour train ride away. I try to go every year, enjoying to dive into the world of children’s books head first. It is wonderful to meet friends, colleagues and clients – kids’ book people from all walks of life. I love the exhibitions and talks, workshops and panels. It is so inspiring to explore different perspectives on children’s literature and illustration.

This year, I also wanted to test the waters for my writing and illustrating work: Before the fair I went through the exhibitors’ directory and wrote emails to publishers and agents who I thought might like my work, in German speaking countries as well as in the UK and in the US. I made some new connections – and just three weeks later, I’m already working on a project which came from one of them!

Sanne Dufft sketches while waiting for the fair to open.

Sarah: Like the three other times I’ve visited the Fair, I went representing SCBWI. Our goals were to connect with SCBWI members from around the globe, spread the word about our organization, connect with publishers, industry members, and other organizations, and to support the children’s book creators in attendance with events like free portfolio reviews and networking happy hour at the booth, and programming—our panel on Breaking into the Industry as an Illustrator and Duelling Illustrators. We accomplished all of those goals, and it was so much fun to connect with so many people!

Dueling illustrators Anden Wilder (left) Jess Racklyeft (right) with Melanie Rook Welfing keeping time.

How did your experience at this year’s fair compare to previous fairs you’ve attended? How was it the same or different?

Arthur: There was a renewed vitality to the atmosphere; a sense that more people overall were returning (though it seemed fewer Americans were there.) The amount of brilliant publishing on display was a little overwhelming!)

Sanne: This is hard to tell, as it has been overwhelming and inspiring every time. Was there a new spirit of optimism, after the last three years? I tend to think there was.
Another difference I noticed was what one could call a revival of traditional media in illustration, both in the books on display and in the exhibited artwork. As an illustrator who indulges in the sensory pleasure of paint on paper, making marks and being surprised by the process, this makes me particularly happy.

Sarah: Each time I go to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, it’s a totally different experience, but each time I go I get more and more familiar with the event and I get a better sense of what to expect. The last time I attended was in 2018, and after such a long pause, it was exciting to see the Fair back in full-force. The energy was very positive, people seemed so happy to be there in person again.

I was thrilled to find that the SCBWI booth was such a great hub for SCBWI members visiting the fair, and for children’s book creators that found out about us at the panel we presented. Members and volunteers from all over the world were meeting each other at the booth, making connections, sharing perspectives, and that was really inspiring.

SCBWI Illustrator Scholarship winners Jess Racklyeft and Anden Wilder. Learn more about them in this Cynsations interview.

This was also SCBWI’s first time providing Bologna Children’s Book Fair scholarships! Anden Wilder from the US and Jess Racklyeft from Australia were our inaugural scholarship winners and their enthusiasm and involvement made it clear that the scholarship is a fantastic new addition we’ll be sticking with.

I made sure to spend time exploring the halls featuring publishers and organizations outside of North America. I had the opportunity to meet with the coordinator of IBAF, International Book Arsenal Festival, and Book Dash from South Africa, both of which the SCBWI Impact and Legacy Fund provided micro-grants to. Both organizations are doing fascinating, important work and it was amazing to see them in action.

What was your biggest insight or take-away from being at the fair this year? What stood out to you (trends, impressions, etc.)?

Arthur: I was delighted to find that many places where stereotypes of a country’s populace had once dominated, were now beginning to reflect contemporary reality. Not all Swedes represent a blonde, Nordic background, for instance. And I was delighted to meet with more publishers interested in giving voice to Indigenous creators from around the world.

Sanne: A lot of the art I saw was very unconventional, ambiguous, surprising. I saw this as an encouragement to continue on my path of developing my own, unique visual voice – wherever this may lead me. But maybe this is just me, finding what I was looking for…

A peek inside Sanne’s sketchbook.

Sarah: My biggest take-away was that SCBWI members are eager to connect with other members from around the world. Children’s books are important to people everywhere in the world, and it validates SCBWI’s goal of becoming more truly global. In terms of the books themselves, I didn’t notice one specific trend, but it’s so interesting to see the different styles and approaches in the books coming out from different countries. It’s inspiring as an illustrator to see beyond the market of your home-country. Every style of art and book design is out there—there is so much possibility.

Cynsational Notes

Sarah Baker is the Executive Director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She joined the SCBWI staff in 2011, and most recently held the position of Associate Executive Director. Her career in children’s book publishing began at Penguin Young Readers Group, where she designed children’s books for six years. Sarah leads the SCBWI staff and works closely with the Board of Directors, the Advisory Council, and the official SCBWI volunteers. She graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara with a major in Studio Art and is a children’s book illustrator and ceramicist. Her favorite part of working for SCBWI is seeing the community flourish and the members thrive as artistic creators. Find SCBWI on Instagram @SCBWI.

Sanne Dufft lives in beautiful Tübingen in the south of Germany with her husband and her youngest child, whose two older siblings pop in to visit now and then. Sanne draws, paints and writes whenever – and wherever – she can. She has a degree in Art Therapy and Special Education and a lot of experience with children, both professionally and with her own, which has shaped the way she paints, and the stories she tells.

In 2015, after just having put together her first illustration portfolio, she won the SCBWI Europolitan Portfolio Award. Now she is happy to give back a little as the Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI’s Germany/Austria region. After having illustrated two picture books, Sanne realised she also had some stories to tell. In 2017, Magnus und der Nachtlöwe, the first book that she wrote and illustrated, was published in Germany, and shortly thereafter in Canada and in the US as The Night Lion, which won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for the region Europe, South America, Africa in 2019. And there are more to come…

Her books have been published in Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Romania, the UK, Australia, Canada and the US. Sanne loves illustrating picture books and chapter books. My favourite technique is watercolor, which she likes to complement with gouache and coloured pencils, aiming to develop a particular visual language for each project.

Arthur A. Levine founded Levine Querido in April 2019. His determination to bring a diverse selection of “The Best of the World’s Literature for Young People” to American readers was the defining principle in all of his publishing since its beginnings, and continues to be the guiding light at Levine Querido. This mission resulted in the introduction to North American audiences of the work of great writers such as J. K. Rowling, Markus Zusak, Luis Sepúlveda, and Jaclyn Moriarty. LQ’s award winning publication of Daniel Nayeri, Darcie Little Badger, Donna Barba Higuera, Cat Min, and Sacha Lamb continues the tradition. He sees the search for great writers from around the world as a continuum with Levine Querido’s search for diverse, powerful, unique voices and visions from the multitude of cultures closer to home. Find Levine Querido on Instagram @levinequerido, on Twitter @LevineQuerido and on TikTok @levinequerido.

Elisabeth Norton is a reporter covering international aspects of children’s publishing for Cynsations. Originally from the US, she lives in Switzerland where she teaches English as a Foreign Language and writes poetry, picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels in verse. Her poetry for young readers has been included in several anthologies, including Things We Eat (Pomelo Books, 2022) and Imperfect II: poems about perspective: an anthology for middle schoolers (History House Publishers, 2022). She serves as the Assistant International Advisor (Outreach) for SCBWI. You can find out more about Elisabeth and her writing on her website.