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Australian publishers report ‘optimistic’ Bologna; feminism and diversity remain points of interest

Australian publishers have reported a busy and ‘positive’ Bologna Children’s Book Fair (26-29 March), with ongoing demand for middle-grade fiction, books with a focus on feminism and diversity, and illustrated titles showcasing bold design.

Hachette rights and publishing manager Sarah Brooks described the fair as optimistic, apart from the ‘slightly subdued’ atmosphere following the announcement that Bonnier would close its Australian publishing arm and its local children’s imprint, Five Mile. ‘Most foreign publishers had a really positive outlook on the children’s book market this year,’ said Brooks.

Books tackling feminism and diversity were ‘at the top of everyone’s acquisition list’ said Brooks, who emphasised that the interest was a global one: ‘It was brilliant to see such a strong commitment to publishing new voices and stories that are more inclusive, from all over the world.’ Brooks reported that ‘junior-fiction series with male protagonists were also highly sought after.’

Allen & Unwin rights director Angela Namoi countered that the market for titles about strong women and girls felt ‘somewhat saturated at this stage’.

Namoi said that the popularity of middle-grade fiction remained strong, a trend that was also reflected in reports by Publishers Weekly and the Bookseller. ‘At the middle-grade level there always seems to be demand, although standalone titles were preferred to series,’ said Namoi. Allen & Unwin’s most sought-after tittle was Barry Jonsberg’s July middle-grade novel, A Song Only I Can Hear, which was acquired by Random House in Germany, Lemniscaat in the Netherlands and Piemme/Mondadori in Italy. ‘We are confident we will achieve more deals in the coming weeks, with strong interest at the fair,’ said Namoi.

‘The young adult area is still tricky, with most publishers finding this a difficult area of publishing at the moment,’ said Namoi. ‘A number of theories were shared about why that is so with the broad consensus being that teens are spending more time engaged with other activities on their various devices, rather than reading.’

Allen & Unwin also brought an ‘extensive’ picture-book list to the fair, and Namoi reported interest across the range, from more humorous titles such as Shelly Unwin and Vivienne To’s There’s a Baddie Running Through This Book and Are You My Bottom? by Kate and Jol Temple (illus by Ronojoy Ghosh) to ‘big issue’ books like Margaret Wild and Mandy Ord’s Chalk Boy and Eddie Ayres and Ronak Taher’s Sonam and the Silence.

For Magabala Books senior editor and first-time attendee Margaret Whiskin, Bologna offered ‘some great connections and lots of ideas and inspiration’, but also served as a reminder that Indigenous voices are still ‘the marginalised of the marginalised’.

‘While at Magabala we believe that the growing the #OwnVoices movement should create huge opportunities for Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices, being at Bologna reminded me that Indigenous voices are still the marginalised of the marginalised. In conversation with the foreign rights manager from Inhabit Media, the Canadian Inuit-owned publishing company, it became clear that we have a lot in common. We agreed that there is a still a lot of education to be done and our challenges lie in finding Indigenous stories that global markets can identify with as universal, and designs that appeal to an international aesthetic.’

Whiskin also noticed the design trend in using ‘pure, bold/Pantone colours and almost-retro designs’.

Both Whiskin and Brooks said the fair provided an opportunity to showcase local children’s authors and illustrators to an international audience, specifically citing the ‘Hello! From Australia’ stand run by Books Illustrated as the main vehicle for this opportunity.

‘It was wonderful to see our illustrator Jedda Robaard and author/illustrator Max Landrak who were both at the fair drawing on the “Hello! From Australia” stand,’ said Brooks. ‘It offered an invaluable opportunity for them both to showcase their talents and upcoming work to editors and publishers at the fair.’

‘We were pleased that through the Magabala Philanthropic Scholarship Fund, we were able to support author and illustrator Bronwyn Houston to attend, as one of the illustrators on the “Hello! From Australia” stand,’ said Whiskin.

This year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair also saw the announcement of the winners of the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Awards, while New Zealand publisher OneTree House won Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year in the Oceania category.

 

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