2 Seas Returns to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2024

2 Seas Returns to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2024

By Chrysothemis Armefti — Article first published in April 2024

Discover Senior Agent Chrysothemis Armefti’s impressions of the 2024 Bologna Children’s Book Fair!

The 61st edition of the Bologna Book Fair, took place from Monday, April 8 to Thursday, April 10th, counting over 1,523 exhibitors from 100 countries, with Slovenia as the guest of honor. With close to 32,000 trade visitors, the fair reached and exceeded pre-pandemic numbers. Publishers expressed optimism about the future of children’s and young adult literature, citing renewed enthusiasm among readers and industry professionals alike. Events such as the Kids Licensing Days Conference highlighted the importance of securing rights and licensing deals for children’s content, indicating a robust market for such intellectual properties.

Rise of Graphic Novels and Young Adult Literature

The fair opened with a strong focus on young adult and graphic novels, indicating the significance of these genres in contemporary publishing. Graphic novels targeting young adults are gaining popularity, covering various genres and themes, from contemporary issues to fantastical adventures. Young Adult fiction thanks to BookTok is clearly one of the strongest genres, and so there was still interest in our client Elisa Amore’s series The Demigods Academy, just translated in France by Hachette Romans. Romantasy was a big topic with either publishers actively looking for titles for their newly founded imprints, or publishers who are starting to explore more options such as contemporary romance, horror, or rom-com for young adults. As Marleen mentioned recently in her 2024 London Book Fair article, (Northern) European markets such as the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries have been more actively looking for non-English language titles in these genres, because of the growing dominance of English book sales in those countries, which is also affecting Portugal, with TikTok being one of the main factors. Publishers discussed the need to adapt their strategies to meet English-speaking readers’ demands while preserving linguistic and cultural diversity in children’s literature.

Comics Corner

Overall, there was an increase in genre-blending and mashup novels that combined elements from multiple genres such as fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction. Publishers keep looking for series or established authors with at least two successful standalones, since they are focusing on building their list and want to invest in an author, regularly.

Within graphic novels and Young Adult literature, there was a trend towards exploring diverse themes and identities. This includes narratives featuring protagonists from marginalized backgrounds, LGBTQ+ characters, and stories addressing race, identity, and belonging issues.

Challenges in the Middle-Grade Segment:
Despite overall optimism, challenges were acknowledged in the middle-grade segment of the market. Publishers grappled with issues such as market saturation and the need for fresh, diverse content to captivate middle-grade readers, prompting discussions on strategies for innovation and differentiation. The importance of diversity and inclusion was also discussed here. In terms of subjects, publishers are still looking into fantasy and adventures but with a storyline that goes beyond the classic stories. Publishers are interested in series about sports both for boys and girls, such as The Academy Series by our client T.Z. Layton (rights sold in Japan, Israel, Ukraine, Turkey), and there is a rise in demand for middle-grade romance novels for tweens.

Moomin stand

Publishers, agents, and librarians are noting a significant shift towards shorter children’s books, aiming to re-engage reluctant readers post-pandemic, addressing declining reading skills and enjoyment levels. Professionals are urged to adapt to shorter attention spans, as indicated by findings from various educational surveys and assessments. The trend towards shorter books extends across age groups, from YA to early chapter books. Publishers are requesting books of 120-160 pages long maximum, and a great example is the interest that Chronicles from Hades by Mattia Corrente received at the fair (repped on behalf of Laura Ceccacci Agency in the English language worldwide, the Netherlands, France & Scandinavia). Graphic novels are seen as a viable alternative, but there’s a call for a wider range of accessible books.

There was also a growing focus on middle-grade books that promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education. Publishers from Northern Europe were looking into short fiction titles with STEM subjects with or without illustrations (Black & White), similar to Dollars to Doughnuts by Astra Books for Young Readers, or short non-fiction titles like The Worst-Case Scenario for Kids and Hanging with Vampires/Chilling with Ghosts/Sightseeing with Aliens from our client Quirk Books.

BRAW Amazing Bookshelf

Picture Books: a steady market

Bologna is above and foremost an ode to picture books and illustrated works, to creative authors, but mostly to illustrators and artists. The Illustrators Wall at the Bologna Book Fair is covered with artists’ postcards and posters (and business cards) for viewing by all the fair’s attendees. Given the number of people involved, you can imagine how many artists put their work on display! Hanging by a thread, one hundred books were selected for the BRAW Amazing Bookshelf, including two titles from our client Astra Books for Young Readers, The Museum of Nothing by Steven Guarnaccia (rights sold in Germany, Italy, Mexico), and Luna Ranchera (rights sold in Mexico) by Rodrigo Morlisen & Mariana Ruiz Johnson.

Mattia Cerato – new project – Toffee the Traveling Cat by our author João Piedade

Interests and trends in picture books remain mostly the same since the illustrations’ style is playing a major role in the editors’ choice. Everything depends on the market, on the editorial line of the publishing house, and of course on the personal opinion of the acquiring editors. Having the actual printed books on the table makes such a difference between a yes and a no! It’s such a heart-warming feeling to see the editor’s features changing, their whole face brightening when they read the whole book in front of you. Some are publishing more commercial titles with computer-drawn illustrations, and others are only focusing on very artistic hand-painted works such as the very successful Pepper & Me by Beatrice Alemagna (sold to 12 countries).

Publishers from Central Europe are starting to look for longer picture books that expand beyond the traditional 32-page picture book format and age range. Interest in comics or picture books in comic style has been increasing drastically, and even French editors with their own big production, they keep looking abroad. The Girl Who Makes a Million Mistakes (rights sold in Brazil, English for the Indian subcontinent) by our new client Brenda Li has been widely requested, with multiple offers already under negotiation. These trends constitute an impact as mentioned above from the declining comprehension of young readers, but it’s also a new creative way to engage with readers.

Slovenia Guest of Honor

In terms of subjects, publishers keep looking for innovative books with themes of environmental conservation, sustainability, and climate change; “own voices” with a focus on stories written by authors who share the same marginalized identities as their characters; books addressing social justice issues such as racism, sexism, discrimination, and human rights. On the other hand, there are also those publishers who see saturation in the market of books written specifically to pass a message to the readers, and just looking for books with a good story, with a plot and a storyline, books that will stay memorable for generations like some of our best childhood books.

Digital Innovation

Publishers are also finding innovative ways to engage young readers through digital platforms and technologies. This includes digital reading apps, interactive websites, and social media campaigns designed to connect with digital-native audiences and enhance the reading experience.

The Bologna Book Fair Conference highlighted the rapid growth of audiobooks and podcasts as a new frontier in the expanding audio industry. With audiobooks now available on various platforms alongside music and podcasts, publishers are capitalizing on this trend. Additionally, marketing strategies for audiobooks include integrating ads into existing platforms, creating podcast series, and ensuring consistent branding.

Aperol – a book fair drink!

International Collaboration and Market Expansion

The fair serves as a hub for international collaboration, with publishers and agents from around the world convening to negotiate rights deals and explore new market opportunities. Cross-cultural exchange and partnerships were encouraged, with a focus on expanding reach into emerging markets and diversifying content offerings.
Overall, the Bologna Book Fair 2024 showcased a vibrant and diverse publishing landscape, characterized by innovation, international collaboration, and a renewed focus on children’s and young adult literature in both traditional and digital formats. It underlined once again the importance of in-person meetings, the talks at casual gatherings in the evenings, and the magic of (reading) children’s books.



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