This World Book Copyright day, we are looking back at Karadi’s trip to the Bologna Book Fair this March.
Every year, in Bologna, Italy, the world’s largest children’s book fair takes place. Publishers from around the globe gather to meet and look at what’s new in the world of children’s publishing in different parts of the world. The book fair is primarily a rights fair, where publishers buy or sell rights to their books from or to other publishers.
Despite travel being extra complicated due to covid, our publishing director, Shobha, and I were able to make it to the Bologna Book Fair without much trouble. Karadi Tales has attended the fair almost every year for the last 10 years, except for the two years when it was cancelled due to the pandemic. Online meetings were had during those two years, but it didn’t compare to the experience of being present at the fair!
As soon as we entered, I noticed walls covered with artwork, often with visiting cards of the artists right below them. We got to meet a few of these artists as they’d taken appointments with us. While the artwork was gorgeous across the board, it did strike me how different it was to the art appreciated in children’s books in India. Their art was often dark and abstract, as opposed to illustrations that are colourful and more literal in india.
Our stand was at the World Lounge, nestled between Hans Christian Andersen Publishing and Pickle Yolk Books, ideally situated such that passerbys had the chance to stop and look at our books as they crossed.
We took with us as many books as we could carry, and the rest as pdfs on a tablet. We were most excited to take sample copies of our unpublished, upcoming titles, as none of these had been seen by other publishers yet. The Boy Who Wore Bangles (by Riddhi Maniar, illustrated by Shruti Hemani), Keshav’s Kolam (by Shobha Viswanath, illustrated by Leeza John), The Gift of Giving (by Gowri Ramnarayan, illustrated by Athulya Pillai) and The Tale of King Shibi (written by me, and illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy). We also took with us a special popup book called Our Friends Are Missing on endangered animals by Keerthana Ramesh. We were hoping to get publishers to join us in a co-edition, given it was an expensive book to make.
Everyone we showed Our Friends Are Missing to was in awe of the intricate papercuts. There was also a lot of interest around The Boy Who Wore Bangles in particular, given it is a story about breaking gender roles (and has the most stunning illustrations). We were surprised at the number of publishers looking for stories with religious themes. Luckily, we had The Gift of Giving, a Buddhist story about the magic of sharing and compassion.
I had attended the book fair once before as a student, but it was an entirely different experience as a professional. When we didn’t have appointments, I spent my time wandering around the various halls, looking at what other publishers had on display, trying to show as many of them as possible the books we had taken with us. There was also an incredible ‘Silent Book Contest’ which displayed a number of exquisitely illustrated wordless picture books. It occurred to me that there really is no
end to how much could be conveyed through just pictures – the possibilities, in a way, are endless, given they could be interpreted differently by every person who looked at them.
I was struck by how warm and welcoming the book fair authorities were, as were the publishers I’d previously only corresponded with over email and spoken to over Zoom. We met many new publishers, printers, and agents, and some familiar faces like Avgi Daferera of Ersilia Literary Agency, Vagn Plenge of Forlaget Hjulet, Shay Heydenrych of Jacana, and Andrew, Tricia, and Petula of MMS.
On the third day – our last day at the fair – I was able to take some time out to explore Bologna – Piazza Maggiore, Piazza del Nettuno (which has within it, Palazzo Re Enzo – the palace where the first edition of the Bologna Book Fair took place, and where the Bologna Ragazzi Awards Ceremony took place this year – its porticoed walkways, and its beautiful narrow streets.
The book fair, for me, was an eye-opener to the incredible work being done in children’s publishing across the world, and an occasion to take pride in what we’ve created at Karadi Tales. It was also a wonderful reminder of how books create bridges, solidarity, and comradery across cultures.