A world of children's books under one roof

Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe, mellow bricked porticoes, and some of the best food in Italy.

But part of Bologna has never grown up. For 37 years, publishers, literary agents, and illustrators from all over the world have skipped here with galleys and portfolios in tow for the International Children's Book Fair.

Amid the bright colors and stuffed toys, there's not a child in sight until the last day when local parents and children are allowed to come glimpse the best offerings of international children's publishing.

The fair focuses primarily on publishing rights, and in recent years has become more about maintaining relationships than cutting deals in the aisles. Still, it's an affirmation that in this wired world, greeting international colleagues and holding real books is still an important way to conduct publishing business.

This year, 1,445 exhibitors from Albania to Zimbabwe came to show their wares. A number of textbook publishers and librarians' organizations maintain booths at the fair, as well.

Although Disney had the most extensive booth, and Warner Brothers inflatable characters loomed large over fairgoers dining alfresco, there was a refreshing amount of diversity among the attendees this March.

Alexander Cramer's one-person press enjoyed some heavy traffic along with Ragazzi prize-winner Stoddart Kids, another Canadian publisher. Alexander Press publishes adventure biographies of historical figures for readers ages 12 and up.

"There are so many categories of children's books that I wanted to find one area to focus on," Mr. Cramer said.

The juried Ragazzi awards are presented to the year's best children's books. This year, there were two new awards: the New Art prize, for books that introduce art to children, and the New Horizons award, to spotlight publishers from emerging nations.

Makoto Kimura, editor of the King of Play series from Japanese publisher Gakken (a 28-year veteran of the fair), was clearly delighted to win a Ragazzi this year. The goal of the series, he said, is "to encourage children's creativity and freedom. This is not a book in which there is one answer. Children make their own answers. One hundred children will not have the same answer."

When special awards for interactive media were introduced at the fair in 1997, the rest of the publishing world was questioning the future of the book, but physical paper and picture publishing for children seem to have a secure future.

One of the highlights of the fair was the second annual Illustrator's Cafe, which features discussions by book illustrators and a large wall to demonstrate their artistic talent.

There were quite a few whimsical characters scribbled by those yet to be discovered, and one young man even drew himself, the likeness pleading, "PUBLISH ME."

An exhibit called the Art of the Story (currently at Northwestern University outside Chicago through June 4) presented some of the most beloved aspects of children's book illustrations and an introduction to learning through the art of the book.

For further information:

*Bologna International Children's Book Fair: www.bolognafiere.it/bookfair/

*Art of the Story Illustration Exhibit:

www.library.nwu.edu/artofthestory

*Leigh Montgomery is the Monitor's librarian.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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