Were you at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair this year? Don’t worry if not – our intrepid reporter Lucy Coats has all the inside scoop for you.
Some called it the ‘Quietly Confident Fair’, some the ‘Smiley Fair’ – and one literary scout called it the ‘Fair of the Partial Submission’. There were no empty stands – and the Halls were buzzing. So what really made the 51st Bologna Children’s Book Fair tick? What was hot (and what was not)?
Pre-Fair, The Bookseller was keen to talk about the ‘staunch’ nature of the children’s market, and rated the Fair itself as ‘buoyant’. Catherine Clarke of the Felicity Bryan Agency pointed to twelve new agent tables up in the airy heights of the busy Agents’ Centre – along with a bigger US presence than there has been for some years and the attendance of more film people, including Chris Cuzer, Senior Development Executive of DreamWorks Animation. Her own ‘big excitement’ of the Fair is a newly signed-up debut YA title – The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson (@lisa_letters) – a contemporary story about two transgender boys.
As always, on the first day of the Fair, good news announcements came thick and fast. There’s a shiny new picture-book partnership between Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers – Imaginary Fred – coming from Harper Collins UK and US in autumn 2015, as well as a new deal for Philip Reeve (@philipreeve1) with OUP for an older novel. Several debuts had pre-emptive strikes – including a ‘six-figure deal’ from Macmillan for two books about Scheherazade by new author EK Johnston (@ek_johnston).
There were mixed messages about what’s selling in the children’s and YA market, the general consensus being that contemporary standalone novels are where it is at currently, and that middle-grade is finally taking centre stage after being neglected for far too long. However, John McLay (literary scout for no less than twenty-eight different publishers), maintains that dystopia and paranormal are still around but just being marketed differently. Over a much-needed coffee in the Agents’ Café, he told me that Germany, France and Brazil are the countries ‘crazy’ for rights and in buying mood. Interestingly, he also indicated that more publishers are buying partial manuscripts this year – even with debuts. Only time will tell if this risky strategy will pay off. John’s international ‘books to watch’ included the first in a middle-grade series, The Tapper Twins Go To War by Geoff Rodkey (@GeoffRodkey), bought by Little Brown US and Orion Children’s UK, which sold in seven territories a week before Bologna. He also tipped All the Bright Places (Random House US) adult author Jennifer Niven’s first YA (@jenniferniven) – selling in many territories including UK, France, Germany and Italy.
Hot Key Books have only been on the children’s publishing scene for two years – but it seems like much longer with all the wonderful books already on their list. I caught up with Managing Director, Sarah Odedina, who was keen to tell me about Linda Coggin’s debut novel, The Dog, Ray which already had many offers on the table at the time we spoke. Sarah maintains that Linda has a unique voice and is “writing without reference to anything else that’s out there”. A big claim – but given Sarah’s track record for picking winners, and that she thinks Coggin is in the same league as Patrick Ness, Meg Rosoff and Sally Gardner, this may be a book to look for on the prize lists of 2016. Pre-Bologna, she also did a very quick deal and turnaround on We Were Liars by E Lockhart (@elockhart) for simultaneous publication with the US in May this year, and although no real ‘book of the Fair’ appeared, there’s considerable excitement already building on the social networks around this title. I’d keep an eye on it – sometimes the ‘book of the fair’ only emerges in the weeks following Bologna.
In an interesting new development, Hot Key have also started to buy in translations from authors like Salla Simukka (Finland) and Socorro Acioli (Brazil) – a recent trend helped by the popularity of Scandi-novels by Stieg Larssen and Jo Nesbo. It’s been some years since a children’s author from overseas has had a truly massive success in the UK – so maybe now is the time. Socorro Acioli’s (@AcioliSocorro) novel, The Head of the Saint (October 2014) looks particularly appetising.
From the US side of the pond, things are also looking rosier – over a glass of prosecco in the swishy Hotel Roma in the centre of town, Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown flagged up a lot of interest in (among many others) the husband and wife team of Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, who have produced The Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans – to be published by Crown Kids in the USA. On the title alone, this is one I can’t wait to read!
I’m not alone in saying that my most interesting moment of the Fair came from Barrington Stoke – agent Lesley Pollinger also tipped me that it was hers. Jane Walker and Mairi Kidd were bubbling over with enthusiasm to tell me about their brand-new app (coming later this year for both Android and iOS), designed to help dyslexic readers. Till now, the company have refused to go down the e-book route, citing difficulties with control over layout. This new and amazing app will solve all that, enabling dyslexic readers to change background colours or respace words, and it also provides a digital ‘ruler’ to deepen the colour of the line the child is reading. For the moment it’s only available to teens and 8-12 year-old readers, but that may change in the future as the app develops. Hooray for the Red Squirrel! This will really make a difference to making e-books accessible for everyone. Barrington Stoke’s brand-new picture book list, which I mentioned in last year’s round-up, is up and running now, with new titles in the pipeline from Charlie Higson (his first picture book text), and the inimitable Michael Rosen, who teams up with Chris Mould to scare children (in a good way) with the Wolfman.
Monday finished with a delightful dinner given by Fiona Kennedy, Managing Director and Publisher of Orion Childrens’ Books for Kate Pankhurst (@KateisDrawing), author of the Mariella Mysteries – a brand-new illustrated chapter book series about a sassy, sparky girl detective, hot on the trail of strange doings. There were false moustaches, magnifying glasses (for spotting clues or missing pasta), a large green guinea-pig, a pink wig, and much mayhem and laughter. I caught up with Fiona again on the Tuesday, when she told me about Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s second novel, a contemporary love story called The Apple Tart of Hope. Fiona is ‘astounded by the author’s confidence with this new book’ and thinks it is as exciting as anything by Marcus Sedgwick, Lauren Child or Annabel Pitcher. In an unusual move for Orion, she says she bought Sparky, a US-published picture book about a little girl and her pet sloth by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans ‘because I loved it’. The muted colour palette and wry humour of the text meld perfectly, and I fell in love with it too.
The big news from Orchard is the first new Daisy Meadows series for ten years – Publishing Director Megan Larkin told me to think ‘Daisy does Beatrix Potter’. Jonathan Meres’s (@JonathanMeres) World of Norm is also building well – 280,000 copies have already sold in thirteen languages. Megan feels that there’s a definite uplift in the market – she did US deals on day one of Bologna, and publishers are making offers on the stand which hasn’t happened for a while. After ten awards and (so far) nine foreign deals for the Slated trilogy, Teri Terry’s (@TeriTerryWrites) new book, Game of the Few comes in March 2015 – an excitingly futuristic thriller.
Given that news of the Hodder takeover of Quercus was only announced on the Tuesday of the Fair, the Quercus team were remarkably calm when I met them for a drink that evening. It was business as usual for Publishing Director Roisin Heycock, who enthused about their new acquisition – a ‘sultry YA witch trilogy’ from Anna McKerrow (@AnnaMcKerrow) creative writing coordinator of the reading charity Booktrust. I love the sound of Danny, the boy witch and main character, and will anticipate the first book, Crow Moon, eagerly.
Talking of Hodder, I bumped into Editorial Director, Jon Appleton, my ex-editor at Orion. This is the nice thing about publishing – old friends always turn up again. We sat by the tempting gelato selection while he told me about new titles coming from Cressida Cowell (to tie in with the forthcoming ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ film) and David Almond. The (In)Complete Book of Dragons sounds like another Hiccup hoot, and David’s A Song for Ella Grey, based on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth was always going to be high on my ‘want to read list’.
Faber’s stand is always a joy to behold, with its faux fireplace, black-and-white walls papered with covers and cosy red armchairs. Commissioning Editor Alice Swan talked me through the list, telling me that their biggest recent coup is to have bought world rights in The Imagination Box – a debut middle-grade novel by Martyn Ford (@Martyn87) – which people are ‘begging for’ on just the first few chapters. The new picture book list launched in March with a bang, composed half of ‘heritage authors’ like T.S. Eliot, and half of ‘new’ authors like Julia Copus (@JuliaCopus), an award-winning poet whose adorable rhyming text for Hog in the Fog is beautifully complemented by just-out-of-college Korean artist Eunyoung Seo, and already has rights deals in Germany and Korea. Alice tells me their motto is: ‘Faber – Rhyming for Children’, and of all the publishers around, they are certainly the best-placed to make a ‘picture-book poetry’ list work. I look forward to seeing many more exciting projects from them in the future.
Last stop before the trip home was at the crowded Frances Lincoln stand, where I met the legendary Janetta Otter-Barry. My goodness, but they have some marvellous books coming. I hardly know where to start, but a highlight must be Over the Hills and Far Away by Elizabeth Hammill. Rhymes from cultures all over the world – including First Nation, Maori and Aboriginal are illustrated by no fewer than 77 award-winning artists, and all profits go to fund Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books. Janetta calls the current offerings ‘our strongest Autumn list for years’, and they include Welcome to the Family, the marvellous third collaboration from Mary Hoffman (@MARYMHOFFMAN) and Ros Asquith, which has already sold in eight languages. I should also mention the first picture book from Wendy Meddour (@WendyMeddour), whose Wendy Quill novels are currently doing so well for OUP. How the Library (not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel is funny, quirky and it’s a true delight to read a fractured fairytale full of the power of books. It has a front cover recommendation from Malorie Blackman too – and you don’t get much better than that.
Bologna may be over for another year, but children’s books are constantly in the news, with talk of a new film trilogy from J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter world. I’ll finish with the thought that the most exciting ‘thing of the future’ from the Fair may just be James Frey’s new multi-platform project, Endgame – like a new kind of Kit Williams Masquerade for the 21st Century. The deals for this were done six months before the announcement was ever made – so I leave you to guess what new wonders are already being discussed for Bologna 2015. See you then!
Image for Welcome to the Family © Ros Asquith and Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 2014
All other images © Lucy Coats 2014
Lucy Coats is Contributing Editor to our children’s publishing themed issue of Publishing Talk Magazine, which will be available in September 2014 and includes an exclusive interview with children’s laureate Malorie Blackman.
Join our mailing list to download the current science fiction themed issue – and to be notified as soon as our children’s publishing themed issue is available.