Guest Interview: Illustrators Julien Chung & Jacinta Liu Share Tips for Navigating the Bologna Children’s Book Fair

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Spotlight image: Jacinta Liu in the exhibition of the 2024 featured country, Slovenia, at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

The 61st edition of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair took place April 8 – 11 in Bologna, Italy. Cynsations reporter Elisabeth Norton interviewed creators Julien Chung and Jacinta Liu about their experiences at the Fair. Watch for more Book Fair coverage next week.


By Elisabeth Norton

Why did you attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair this year?

Julien: Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF) is one of my favourite fairs and I go every second year or so. It is great for getting inspired, networking and finding out what is going on the international stage. It is also the only fair that is all about children’s books and illustration.

Jacinta: Whilst I had heard about BCBF before, I had never really looked into it or thought about attending. In my mind, I had the impression that it is more of an event for negotiations and deals to take place than it is for creatives.

It wasn’t until this year February when I was at the SCBWI New York Winter Conference, Shirley Ting, a new friend that I met (on our last day together right before we parted ways!) brought up BCBF and that many illustrators go there, and I became immediately curious. After I flew back home to Melbourne, I checked out the website and the program, sat with the idea of possibly attending, and it just grew stronger and stronger.

Still, I didn’t have full clarity as to why I needed to be there. It seems to be more for illustrators. I identify as a children’s book author, and oracle cards creator.

While I draw, write and illustrate my own oracle cards, I am not an illustrator for children’s books. So, in my head, it didn’t make a lot of sense to go to this event. But I am also an intuitive person, and a lot of the times, I base my decisions on how I feel and what my gut says.

Combined with my incessant appetite for travel, I kind of just convinced myself that I had to go. Then I discussed it with my husband as he would have to be the one to look after the kids, and he wasn’t initially convinced. Especially this was just off the back of coming back from New York, but in the end, he decided to trust my judgement and support me.

Jacinta with samples of her oracle cards.

I had about a month to prepare for the trip and during that time, I received this idea to print out sample cards from one of my oracle decks, Messages from Your Inner Child so I could hand them out.

This set of cards goes with the theme of the children’s book fair. This was confirmed by someone who suggested that I should turn it into a game, like a lucky dip for people to pick their own messages. My husband, who is a branding expert, took this concept even further and helped me prepare my own branded materials – T-shirts and a tote bag with my oracle card designs on them!

This sort of unfolded on its own and it became an opportunity for me to be my own walking brand and do a bit of self-promotion. The plan was to create interest and invite people to pick a card from their inner child!

How was your experience at this year’s fair the same or different from past fairs? Or, if it was your first visit: What were your impressions of the fair as a first-time visitor?

Julien: My experience improves every time I visit, because I make more friends and my community gets larger. Also with time my objectives and expectations become clearer.

Jacinta: As this was my first time going, I really had no expectations at all, especially when I was planning to do something a bit more left field and out of the box. I wanted to just be open to the experience and trust that whatever was calling me to be there, there was a purpose and a reason.

Leading up to it, I did feel a bit anxious. I was worried about being the “weird” oracle lady, and being very different. On my first day, walking through the gates, realising the size of the venue and the amount of people there did make me feel intimidated at first.

I definitely felt like a tiny fish that was drowning in a big ocean! I felt quite insignificant when my goal was to make a splash. The vibe on the first day was also very serious as well. People were busy talking business, or busy getting to places. There was a certain amount of excitement but also a lot of competitiveness too. The illustrators were all fighting and clamouring for wall space to stick their posters!

I had to remind myself to just relax and take in the experience. I didn’t have a strategy on how or who to approach to hand out the cards, but I decided to just take steps and do it. I was slightly awkward at first when I asked people if they wanted to pick a card from their inner child, and of course, everyone had a puzzled expression on their faces! But I just kept pushing through my own resistance and discomfort.

I also dropped off my cards at some publishers as they were open to taking postcards from illustrators. Once I got that out of the way, I felt more relaxed too. By the end of the first day, I got into a groove and started to trust the process. I would go up to the person that I felt intuitively drawn to and offer them a card. I began to connect with a lot more people and some of them really loved their messages.

For some others, it even offered a lot of inner child healing. I continued doing this for the next three days, and I was really happy that I put myself out there. I felt seen and valued for what I was doing, and I was able to get to know people on a much deeper level. It truly was an amazing experience.

As for the fair itself, there was a lot that I gained from it. Firstly, there were many, many, many beautiful books! There were also many, many, many beautiful and wonderfully unique illustrations! There were also exhibitions of award-winning illustrations and books.

Being immersed in this environment, it was hard to not go away feeling inspired. There was always something to discover. Something to learn about. And something that makes you feel.

We are all connected through our shared passion for children’s books and art, and through storytelling, we all wish to contribute to the world and make it a better place. The fair brought people who share a common goal together, and that made me feel that somehow, the purpose of it is more than just business, it is bigger than just making money, and it is greater than its parts combined. At the end, I went away feeling happy, uplifted and hopeful.

What was the highlight of the fair for you?

Julien: The highlight was meeting friends, old and new, from around the world. It was interesting how I ran into the same people over and over at the fair despite there being thousands of attendees.

Melanie Rook Welfing, JulienChung, JacintaLiu and  Elisabeth Norton

Jacinta: I would have to say it’s the people! I have connected with so many like-minded people from all over the world, and some of the connections in particular were just effortless and natural right from the beginning.

I met Julien first in New York this year at the SCBWI conference. He took me under his “wing” as there were very few Aussies at the conference, and through Julien and Shirley, I met a lot more Canadian illustrators and they just gave me a feeling of home.

I also connected with Amberlea Williams, prior to coming to BCBF. And knowing that both of them (Julien and Amberlea) would be at the fair, it made me very excited about going. It was also amazing to see Sarah Baker from SCBWI again after New York, and to meet Elisabeth Norton, Melanie Rook Welfing and many others through the organization. It felt like a reunion and a welcome home! And the afterparty that we had at Libreria Trame Bookstore was so fun, and there I had the best tiramisu!

Jacinta with Oliver Jeffers

Another great highlight personally was attending Oliver Jeffers’ masterclass and meeting him in person at the book signing. His books have had a profound impact on me and in particular one book, The Heart and the Bottle (Philomel/HarperCollins, 2009) planted the initial seed and vision for me to someday write picture books.

Joseph Coelho was another author whom I respect that I got to hear speak to at the fair. He was also at the SCBWI New York conference as a keynote speaker and gave a very powerful and empowering speech. I was grateful to meet him properly this time!

Jacinta with UK Children’s Poet Laureate Joseph Coelho

Lastly, I travelled all this way to Italy and “accidentally” met my illustrator, Freda Chiu! Freda and I are currently collaborating on our upcoming book together, “Grandmother from the East, Grandmother from the West”. I wrote the words and she is doing the illustrations, and it will be meeting the world in 2025 with Hachette Australia. I had no idea that Freda was at the fair, and through sharing my oracle cards, I found out and met her for the very first time. That was such a treat and a surprise.

Overall, it was a magical experience for me, because of the people I met. The fair might have ended, but some of the connections that were formed feel like they will last forever. I look forward to seeing them again.

As an illustrator, what advice would you give to other illustrators about attending the fair?

Julien: My top 10 tips (although there are many more when preparing for a trade show):

1 – Three months before the fair, check which publishers will be present by looking at the exhibitor section of the fair’s website. If you see publishers that you want to work with contact them and ask if they will review portfolios. Try to make appointments in advance.

2 – Find out about other illustrators’ experiences at the fair online. Look at photos of previous years in order to get an idea of what to expect. [See Cynsations interviews about the Fair going back to 2006.]

3 – Book hotels early and ideally within walking distance although public transport is inexpensive.

4 – Visit the fair with a friend. Be wingbuddies for each other. It helps get through the tougher moments when you may feel overwhelmed, tired, and alone. I make a point of meeting my agent, my publishers and my friends from SCBWI. SCBWI has always been kind of like a home away from home for me. [see a Cynsations post that includes SCBWI at the Fair from 2023.]

5 – The fair is so big and there is such a frenetic energy that can be overwhelming at times. I suggest that illustrators, for their first visit, go and enjoy the exhibitions and the workshops that the Illustrator’s Survival Corner organizes.

Attending workshops is a great way to meet new people from around the world. Take a chance and introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you. You never know what friendships might come out of it. I have made friends from Australia, England, Germany, Switzerland, Iran and new friends from my home country, Canada!

Julien points out art samples on one of the Illustrator Walls at the Bologna Book Fair.

6 – On the first day, pin samples of your work or your business cards on one of the Illustrator walls, that are especially designed for that purpose. Bring tape and thumbtacks as they will not be provided. Despite the chaotic jumble of art, professionals do pass by and spend some time looking at it.

7 – Spend your time exploring the different halls and familiarising yourself with the different sections – it could take two days easily (if you don’t get lost).

At the same time, go around to your favorite publisher’s booths to see if they will look at portfolios doing the fair. Some have appointment books. Others will only offer to take your postcard. And some are just not interested in dealing with illustrators.

A sampling of Julien’s recent titles.

8 – Leave room for serendipity – keep your ears and eyes open. I got references and other information just from talking to other creators. Also be generous and share tips that you hear about.

Often people think that they may only get projects from publishers themselves but you may get one down the road from a reference – another illustrator or writer that you met at an event, or an agent you talked to for example.

9 – Bring along your portfolio (light, small, easily accessible), giveaways such as postcards showing your work and with your contact information or even a small souvenir so that you leave a positive impression on the recipient.

I designed and produced enamel pins that people can wear as jewelry. Find something that suits you and that you can use as an ice breaker or as a thank you for your time gift.

10- Plan a few days in advance or afterwards to some sightseeing in Bologna and the Tuscany region. Venice and Florence are close by.

Don’t forget this is first and foremost a business event where publishers are looking to sell rights to their books to other publishers so trade show etiquette applies. And that is another list.

Jacinta: I think the best advice that I can think of is to go there as yourself and just be open to the experience! I did make a list of the workshops and masterclasses that I wanted to attend, but as soon as I got there, I just felt it was more important for me to take in the experience, to be in the present and see what I felt led to do in that moment.

The workshops and masterclasses are great, and there was so much to gain from the experience and knowledge of the speakers, but for me, the biggest gain was making connections and meeting people. Maybe because I see myself more as an author than a book illustrator, so I wasn’t as interested in some of the topics. I think other illustrators perhaps may share a different perspective on this and they possibly find the knowledge and learning aspect of the fair hugely beneficial.

Another thing I can think of that is based on my experience is to trust in how you feel!

I didn’t quite understand the reason that I was called to go, and now I do and I’m so glad that I just trusted that feeling and went! If you feel led to do something or go somewhere, then do it!

There are opportunities that can only exist, and people that you can only meet by going to an international event like this. You probably won’t have it all figured out, but just a willingness to explore and to go through the process. Don’t have any fixed expectations, and be a bit social. Get out of your comfort zone and initiate conversations with people, say that first “hi”! You never know who you may cross paths with and the impact that they will have on your life.

Cynsational Notes

Julien Chung, Graphic Designer & Illustrator photo by Bernard Brault

Julien Chung is a designer and illustrator who makes pictures for children’s books. His work is on products and books around the world—from milk glasses to piggy banks, from Reykjavik to Tokyo, in more than fifty countries around the world. His artistic career began in his childhood home—inspired by the bright visuals of his mother’s children’s book collection and his father’s love of modern architecture and Scandinavian furniture.

In addition to his favorite childhood comics, Julien draws influence from the bright, minimalistic colors of posters, the graphic ideas of Milton Glaser, and quirky animals everywhere. Julien likes chocolate ice cream (preferably with chocolate chunks), sketching with rainbow pencils (you never know what color the line will be), and dogs. He lives in Montreal with his wife. Even though Montreal is full of skyscrapers, there’s a park nearby with squirrels, woodpeckers, deer, and Canada geese. Julien likes to draw them all.

Jacinta Liu is an Australian children’s book author and oracle cards creator, with a love for astrology and a wanderlust that explores the realms of body, mind and soul. Her debut picture book, “Grandmother from the East, Grandmother from the West” will be meeting the world with Hachette Australia in 2025. Jacinta has also authored, illustrated, and produced seven oracle card decks. Her oracle cards offer the invitation for children and adults alike, to discover who they are, and why they are here. For more, find her at or on Instagram @jacintaliu.

Elisabeth Norton is a neurodiverse author and poet. As a reporter for Cynsations, she covers international aspects of children’s publishing. 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.