Bologna Book Fair Review! from Janna’s 2024 Visit

What is the Bologna Book Fair?

The Bologna Book Fair is the largest children’s book fair in the world.

If you love children’s books, it’s heaven. It’s one giant lovefest for the art of illustrated storytelling. Everyone there is passionate about books and art and making the world a better place for kids.

This year there were an astounding 31,735 attendees, with 1523 exhibitors from more than 90 countries, and 386 events on the program.

It’s certainly one of the best places for illustrators to learn and network. A gigantic “Illustrators Wall” dominates the entrance hall to the fair.

The Illustrators Wall at Bologna Book Fair, covered with artists' postcards and posters.

The Illustrators Wall at Bologna Book Fair, covered with artists’ postcards and posters.

The Illustrators Wall is a place where any attending artists can pin their postcards or posters 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!

(To be honest, it really be called the “Illustrators Maze.”)

I spent a lot of time walking up and down the walls, getting inspired by all the talent on display.

Promo poster by Spanish illustrator Diego Estebo at the Bologna Book Fair.

Promo poster by Spanish illustrator Diego Estebo at the Bologna Book Fair.

Clever promo sticker by Latvian illustrator Elvira Bekere at the Bologna Book Fair.

Clever promo sticker by Latvian illustrator Elvira Bekere.

Postcard by UK-based Hong Kong illustrator Amber Aü.

Postcard by UK-based Hong Kong illustrator Amber Aü.

Postcard by Canadian-German illustrator Joelle Gebhardt.

Postcard by Canadian-German illustrator Joelle Gebhardt.

Postcard by German illustrator Anna Karina at the Bologna Book Fair.

Postcard by German illustrator Anna Karina at the Bologna Book Fair.

Postcard by Singapore-based Burmese illustrator May Thu.

Postcard by Singaporean artist Claire Low, aka Coma Tomato.

Postcard by Singaporean artist Claire Low, aka Coma Tomato.

One of the interesting changes at the Fair is that it is now expanding beyond children’s books into illustrated books of other types, most notably comics. In 2023, the Fair launched “Comics Corner,” a special section devoted to comics publishers.

A publisher stand at the Bologna Book Fair Comics Corner: Diabolo Edizioni from Italy.

A publisher stand at the Bologna Book Fair Comics Corner: Diabolo Edizioni from Italy.

In its first iteration last year, 40 comics publishers from around the world had their work on display there.

But this year, in 2024, Comics Corner almost doubled, with more than 70 publishers from France, Spain, Italy, the US, the Philippines, Belgium, the UK, Singapore, Greece, Canada, Norway, Germany, India, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Colombia, Portugal, Taiwan, Brazil, and Ukraine.

It is so much fun to see graphic novels from so many different countries all in one place. And to meet the editors, artists, and publishers behind them! (I post examples of some of what I saw below!)

My Experience at the 2024 Bologna Book Fair

The Pre-Show!

The fair officially started on Monday, but I got a jumpstart on Sunday by attending a training, “How to Sell Rights and Understand Licensing in Children’s Books.”

The training included presentations by a number of European rights directors and agents I hadn’t met yet, including agents Debbie Bibo of The Debbie Bibo Agency and Valentina Colombo of The Phineas Fogg Agency.

Here’s Debbie Bibo, talking about how Japanese children’s book illustrator and publisher Katsumi Komagata (who died just a week before the fair began) inspired her to become a picture book agent:

Agent Debbie Bibo speaks at a rights training at Bologna Book Fair 2024.

Agent Debbie Bibo speaks at a rights training at Bologna Book Fair 2024.

One of the best things about attending a conference like this is the unexpected connections you make.

During the breaks at the training, I met Mary Malca Villa, a Peruvian doctor and writer who co-wrote an anthology of Incan folktales, translated from Quechua into Spanish. The story behind the book is fascinating — it is based on a manuscript originally written in the 1600s, but unknown until it was discovered in an archive in Spain in 1939. It includes many stories that had become lost, because the conquistadores worked so hard to stamp out native traditions.

Mary and her team of co-writers are working diligently to re-introduce these ancient stories to kids in Peru.

Peruvian author Mary Malca Villa and agent Janna Morishima at a Bologna Book Fair rights training.

Chatting with Peruvian author Mary Malca Villa after the Bologna rights training.

A compilation of Quechua folktales, translated into Spanish for children, called "La Yacana y Otros Relatos."

A compilation of Quechua folktales, translated into Spanish for children, called “La Yacana y Otros Relatos,” illustrated by Peruvian artist Christian Ayuni.

In the evening, I attended the Penguin Random House party, where I ran into friends from the Gallt and Zacker Agency:

Janna Morishima with friends from Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency at the Penguin Random House 2024 Bologna Book Fair party.

Hanging out with Ellen Greenberg, Efrat Lev, and Saribel Pages from Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency at the Penguin Random House 2024 Bologna Book Fair party.

And then I ran into Kids Comics Unite member and phenomenal author-illustrator Eliza Kinkz!

Janna Morishima and Eliza Kinkz at the 2024 Bologna Book Fair PRH party.

With Eliza Kinkz at the 2024 Bologna Book Fair PRH party.

The Fair!

The next day I arrived bright and early for a full day at the fair. The first thing that greeted me in Hall 25 (where a lot of publisher booths are located) was this graffiti wall where everyone is encouraged to doodle:

The artists' grafitti wall at the Bologna Book Fair.

“Libera la tua Fantasia” (free your imagination) at the Bologna Book Fair.

The artists' grafitti wall at the Bologna Book Fair.

The artists’ grafitti wall at the Bologna Book Fair.

And then, as I was walking to my first meeting, I saw KCU member Alexis Fajardo‘s work on the wall of the IBPA booth!

Artwork by Alexis Fajardo at the IBPA booth at the Bologna Book Fair.

Artwork by Alexis Fajardo at the IBPA booth at the Bologna Book Fair.

My meetings started off, naturally, at the Comics Corner. 😊

Here’s me hanging out with Felicia and Claire from Singaporean comics publisher Difference Engine. Felicia is a KCU member! And I found out during the meeting that I had taken a photo of Claire’s postcard on the Illustrators Wall, without knowing that I would later meet her in person!

Claire Low and Felicia Low from Singapore comics publisher Difference Engine meeting with agent Janna Morishima, in the Comics Corner at Bologna Book Fair.

Claire Low and Felicia Low from Singapore comics publisher Difference Engine meeting in the Comics Corner at Bologna Book Fair.

While wandering the Comics Corner, I chatted with indie comics publisher Gautier Ducatez of The Hoochie Coochie, based in the French Alps, about this super cool comics picture book which teaches kids about visual narrative via game-like stories:

Detective Rollmops, a French picture book teaching how various narrative conventions work in sequential art.

Detective Rollmops, a French picture book teaching how various narrative conventions work in sequential art.

I attended a number of events, including a panel about Slovenian comics, where I found out about longtime underground comics magazine Stripburger, which emerged out of hardcore music scene.

I was so inspired by the way Stripburger organizes innovative gallery exhibits of comics art and community workshops, not only with kids, but also with elderly people at nursing homes! Below is a picture of the screen from the panel discussion, showing a photo from one of their exhibits:

Two panelists discuss how Slovenian comics magazine Stripburger sponsors gallery shows of comics art in Ljubljana.

Two panelists discuss how Slovenian comics magazine Stripburger sponsors gallery shows of comics art (photo of an exhibit on the screen above them) in Ljubljana.

I don’t know if you can see in the picture above, but they hung the framed comics pages and also created black & white wall decals of the character. I really like this creative approach to the presentation of the art.

Many art and comics schools had booths at the fair, including the Cambridge School of Art, where all illustration students had print-on-demand editions of their final picture book projects on display, just like a publisher. Very cool!

The Cambridge School of Art booth at the Bologna Book Fair.

The Cambridge School of Art booth at the Bologna Book Fair.

Dummy books by students at the Cambridge School of Art, in their booth at the Bologna Book Fair.

Dummy books by students at the Cambridge School of Art, in their booth at the Bologna Book Fair.

Here’s a spread from a catalog from Italian comics school Scuola Internationale di Comics:

Scuola Internationale di Comics catalog pages.

Scuola Internationale di Comics catalog pages.

My Favorite Things About the Bologna Book Fair

Italy!

There’s a reason why the Bologna Fair is usually every publisher and agent’s favorite book fair. Why wouldn’t you want to experience la dolce vita in a beautiful Italian city while getting business done?

Literary agent Janna Morishima on the church steps in the Piazza Maggiore in central Bologna.

Hanging out on the church steps in the Piazza Maggiore in central Bologna.

I walked everywhere in downtown Bologna.

Moped parking on a typical street in central Bologna.

Moped parking on a typical street in central Bologna.

A spring evening in central Bologna.

A spring evening in central Bologna.

Shopping for vegetables in central Bologna.

Shopping for vegetables in central Bologna.

A bookstore in central Bologna with an ancient brick wall and a cafe upstairs.

A bookstore in Bologna with an ancient brick wall and a cafe upstairs.

Dinner on the street in central Bologna.

Dinnertime on the street in central Bologna.

Meeting Friends in Real Life

Zoom is nice and all, but seeing people face to face is totally better than seeing them on a video screen.

Janna Morishima, literary agent, and Janelle deLuise, head of rights for Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Coffee with Janelle deLuise, head of rights for Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Agent Janna Morishima and Brooklyn-based Mexican author-illustrator Cecilia Ruiz at the Bologna Book Fair

Running into Brooklyn-based Mexican author-illustrator Cecilia Ruiz at the show!

Agent Janna Morishima and editor Erinn Pascal at the Bologna Book Fair in 2024.

Dinner with Erinn Pascal, senior editor at Andrews McMeel.

Seeing Amazing Books and Art

Of course one of the coolest things about attending an international book fair is the opportunity to see books and art that you would never see in your own country.

Below is just a tiny sampling of what I saw in Bologna:

An illustration by Beijing-based artist Li Yao (sorry for the reflection in the image!).

An illustration by Beijing-based artist Li Yao (sorry for the reflection in the image!).

Sample art by Slovenia illustrator Ivan Mitrevski.

Sample art by Slovenian illustrator Ivan Mitrevski.

Original art by Czech illustrator Katerina Illnerova.

Original art by Czech illustrator Katerina Illnerova.

Original art by German illustrator Lara Kaminski.

Original art by German illustrator Lara Kaminski.

Illustrations by Romanian artist Oana Ispir in the Romanian publishers' booth.

Illustrations by Romanian artist Oana Ispir in the Romanian publishers’ booth.

Sample art by Slovenian children's comics artist David Krančan, who is also an editor at Stripburger magazine.

Sample art by Slovenian children’s comics artist David Krančan, who is also an editor at Stripburger magazine.

Bulgarian children's comic by Alya Markova in the Bulgarian publisher booth at Bologna Book Fair.

Bulgarian children’s comic by Alya Markova in the Bulgarian publisher booth at Bologna Book Fair.

Quirky picture book by Swedish artist Jonna Björnstjerna.

Quirky picture book by Swedish artist Jonna Björnstjerna.

An interior spread from an award-winning Korean manga at the Bologna Book Fair.

An interior spread from an award-winning Korean manga at the Bologna Book Fair.

"Zouk: the Witch with a Big Heart" French kids graphic novel by Serge Bloch and Nicolas Hubesch.

“Zouk: the Witch with a Big Heart” French kids graphic novel by Serge Bloch and Nicolas Hubesch.

Poster of the "Jo Jo: Sweet Monster" book in the Bologna Book Fair booth of publisher Gründ.

Poster of the “Jo Jo: Sweet Monster” book in the booth of publisher Gründ.

Getting New Ideas

I always get new ideas when I step out of my routine.

For example, I noticed at the Bologna Book Fair that a number of Italian publishers were selling beautiful prints of their illustrators’ work! This is something that American publishers rarely do.

Artist posters in an Italian publisher's booth at the Bologna Book Fair.

Artist posters in an Italian publisher’s booth at the Bologna Book Fair.

I also saw a fairy tale graphic novel with art by Spanish illustrator Elena Odriozola which came with duotone colored viewing glasses. Looking through the viewer made you see different versions of the illustrations:

Asi Me Lo Contaron, Asi Te Lo Cuento, illustrated by Elena Odriozola, published by Ediciones Modernas El Embudo

Asi Me Lo Contaron, Asi Te Lo Cuento,” illustrated by Elena Odriozola, published by Ediciones Modernas El Embudo

Illustration by Elena Odriozola

Looking through the blue viewer, you see the characters wearing dresses.

Illustration by Elena Odriozola

If you look through the red viewer, the characters are naked.

And I thought this method for displaying books was quite fun and unusual:

Innovative ceiling-hung display of award-winning children's books at the Bologna Book Fair.

Innovative ceiling-hung display of award-winning children’s books at the Bologna Book Fair.

How Much Does It Cost to Attend the Bologna Book Fair?

If you’re based in North America, it might seem financially unfeasible to attend a book fair across the ocean in Europe. But it’s actually not necessarily more expensive than attending a convention in the United States!

I will admit that I am very good at budget travel — not everyone likes to stay in hostels or shop for food at the supermarket instead of eating out at restaurants. But if you’re OK with that, it’s totally possible to keep your expenses very low.

So how much did it cost me to attend the fair?

  • Airfare: $590
  • Hostel: approx. $300 for 4 nights
  • Hotel: $100 for 1 night (I had an overnight layover in Copenhagen)
  • Food, transportation, and incidentals: approx $140
  • Entrance to fair + training: $150

Total cost: about $1280

You’ll notice that my food and transportation costs were very, very low. That’s because:

a) Breakfast was included in my hostel, and I ate a big meal every morning

b) I attended some parties and got taken out to dinner where other people paid for my food (yay)

c) I walked almost everywhere and only took a taxi a couple of times

You’ll also notice that the entrance fee for the fair is extremely reasonable. And in fact, if you’re an illustrator, it’s even cheaper! A 4-day pass to the fair for illustrators is €56, or about $59.

How to Get There and Where to Stay

Bologna has an international airport with connections from most major hubs in Europe. So it’s not difficult to access.

In my case, I flew Scandinavian Airlines, which did require two layovers each way, first to Oslo, then Copenhagen, and finally Bologna. It was a long trip, but the airfare was less than $600!

I stayed at Il Nosadillo Hostel in central Bologna. It’s a small hostel and booked up months in advance of the Bologna Book Fair. I’m glad I snagged the last available room in January!

One of my favorite things about staying in hostels is meeting all the cool people there! While I was at Il Nosadillo, I met travelers from Costa Rica, Argentina, Turkey, Japan, Spain, France, England, Netherlands, and Germany.

Breakfast at Il Nosadillo Hostel in Bologna, Italy.

Breakfast at Il Nosadillo Hostel in Bologna, Italy. Two of the people in this photo were artists attending the fair.

Many of the fairgoers I spoke with stayed at Airbnbs.

Everyone in Bologna knows how huge the fair is, and it seems like a lot of people head out of town for the week and rent out their apartments for some extra cash. So you can find a LOT of Airbnb options for the fair.

Additional Bologna Book Fair Tips

If you’re thinking about attending the fair next year, here are a few more tips:

  • The website is confusing! You have to buy the ticket, get emailed a coupon code, and then input the code in order to download your ticket. Just a heads up that it’s a strange multi-step process.
  • The show is huge – wear comfortable walking shoes and build extra time in between meetings.
  • The show layout is super confusing, unless you have a compass in your head. Get a copy of the show catalog and consult the map!
  • When deciding where to meet someone, I suggest at the entrance to the Rights Center or the Comics Center, or at a specific publisher booth.
  • Wifi access is slow and spotty. If you need to access any files on your laptop or phone, make sure you download them just in case you don’t have Internet access.
  • Consider attending supplemental industry training! The cost for the training I attended was very reasonable (€99) and it included a 2-day pass to the show. There were many authors and illustrators at the training.
  • Research the many awards and competitions highlighted at the show — there might be some that you want to enter!
Entrance to the gallery display of the 2024 Silent Book Contest Awards.

Entrance to the gallery display of the 2024 Silent Book Contest Awards.

Info mural about the Golden Pinwheel Illustrators Competition at the Bologna Book Fair.

Info mural about the Golden Pinwheel Illustrators Competition at the Bologna Book Fair.

Bittersweet Farewell

It was hard to leave Italy after having had so many great conversations and seen so much inspiring art. I felt like I learned a huge amount and made a lot of connections in a very short amount of time.

I ended the visit on a high note, though — a fior di latte and limone gelato at the Bologna Airport:

a fior di latte and limone gelato at the Bologna Airport

Ciao, bella!

About Janna Morishima

Janna Morishima is the founder of Kids Comics Unite and a literary agent who specializes in graphic novels and visual storytelling. She started her publishing career at Scholastic, where she was one of the co-founders of the Graphix imprint. She then became director of the Kids Group for Diamond Book Distributors, where she worked with publishers such as Marvel, Dark Horse, and Oni Press, and helped launch Françoise Mouly’s Toon Books imprint. In addition to her background in publishing, she has worked as an associate producer for documentary films, and as an assistant teacher in a kindergarten and a teacher in a high school for teens in the juvenile justice system. She later launched and ran the NYC Department of Education’s “NYC Reads 365” literacy initiative.

34 thoughts on “Bologna Book Fair Review! from Janna’s 2024 Visit

  1. Wow, I get a feel for all the energy and ideas zapping around there. You’re inspiring me to go next year. Thanks for passing along the excitement — great report!

    1. That’s a great way of putting it — “all the energy and ideas zapping around.” That’s exactly what I felt!

    1. I tried to remember to take as many pictures as I could to share here on the blog — I want to share my enthusiasm and encourage everyone to attend the show, haha!

  2. I’m now sitting like a deer in headlights after reading this post! 😳 It sounds absolutely amazing but as someone who is directionally challenged and easily over-stimulated, I would probably get thoroughly discombobulated and lost and never find my way home again. 😆 But, wow…what an event! Thanks for letting me live it vicariously through you!

    1. Haha!! There were many times at the show when I was turning around in circles, asking myself “Now how do I get to my next meeting again???”

  3. Wow, what a great post! Definitely looks like an inspiring event. It’s always great to expand your exposure to artists from all over the world!

    1. Thanks, Tak! Yes, I just want to shout from the rooftops about all the incredible children’s book (and graphic novel) art there is throughout *the whole world.*

    1. Besides the amazing gelato, I had a scrumptious wild rice seafood salad one night, and tortellini with artichokes in cream sauce another night. I wish I had a foodie illustrator with me just to document the food!!!

  4. What a great overview. LOVE seeing all the postcards and other images. It’s all so inspiring thank you for sharing in so much detail. It felt like I went there for a visit too.

  5. Amazing! My mom, Marisabina Russo, and I attended the 2023 fair and could have really used such insight beforehand. I am still inspired by what I saw and the exposure to international creatives is priceless. This is such a great snapshot of the fair!

    1. I hope you and your mom can go back to the fair soon! It would be fun to meet both of you there! It’s good to hear the inspiration has stayed with you so long. I hope it does the same for me.

  6. Great report, Janna! I always love your enthusiasm and insights. Reading this provided me a nice mental vacation from my work day (which ironically involved shooing some students away from my desk as I scrolled through it, haha). I’ve always wanted to use my art as a way to explore the world. I hope to start doing that soon!

  7. Wow! Thank you for sharing your wonderful trip and so many amazing photos! It is beautiful to see how it has expanded. I saw one person speaking with a publisher rep at a table, much like I had sat back around 2000. But so much is better now! Double Wow! It would be nice to live in Bologna, wouldn’t it?
    I went to BCBF several years ago when we lived in Europe. I can’t imagine a more inspiring event for children’s book lovers. Before the first time, I thought the US had amazing illustrators, but I learned we needed to catch up in artistic styles back then. We are finally on par with many countries that lead the way in innovative illustration and storytelling. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

    1. Yes, there is really innovative illustration and storytelling in the US, but also outside the US. I wish there were more opportunities for international artists and storytellers to mingle and exchange ideas.

  8. What a thorough and fantastic report! It’s on my wish-list/bucket-list. Do you recommend this for authors (text-only)? I feel like it’s more of an illustrator’s playground.

    1. Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I definitely agree the BCBF is art-centric, but I do think if you’re a picture book author, you could learn a lot by studying the vast array of picture books on display there. And some of the training offered at the fair is very relevant to authors (like the one I went to). Given the low cost of the training and the possibility of connecting with other authors whom you’d never meet otherwise, I do think it would be worthwhile.

  9. Hi Janna!

    I illustrated one of the posters here and just wanted to drop a little thank you for the feature! This is my first time being on the illustrator’s wall, albeit remotely, so I felt super seen by this feature! Appreciate your kind support!

    Thank you for sharing such a lovely and detailed breakdown of the event and others’ lovely works as well!

    Thank you for making my day! I hope you have a lovely day as well! 🙂

  10. This was such an amazing summary of what seemed like such an eye opening trip! I was captivated and wish I was along side with you!

  11. Janna, Thanks so much for this detail review and step-by step – super clear and inspiring – aiming to finally attend next year 🙂

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