by Alessandra Cardone
BOLOGNA, Italy, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Regardless of their country and specific features of their work, many publishers here at the 2018 Bologna Children's Book Fair seemed to agree on one point: children still love to read.
People crowded around thousands of stands across the 20,000-square-meter exhibition center here, wandering from one title to another, while waiting for having a word with an author, or looking for a particularly charming fairy tale.
The range of choice could not be wider: a total of 1,390 publishers from 77 countries and regions took part in the 55th edition of the fair running in the central Italian city on March 26-29.
In this one of the major global events for the children's literature industry, professionals are exchanging contacts, publishers are seeking talents or potential partners, and debates among international authors are drawing a large, attentive audience.
"The children's (book) market is a growing sector, which allows us to experiment and meet positive results," Giovanni Grotto with the Italian Sassi Editore told Xinhua.
"This trend does not concern Italy or Europe only, but the world... because, contrary to what people may think, children do still love reading," the young executive said with a smile.
Based in the province of Vicenza, the publisher grew international lately, focusing on the European market -- with direct distribution in France and Germany -- and selling his titles to China since the last couple of years. "Our strong point is to put book and game together," Grotto explained.
Indeed, Sassi's shelves were full of books with puzzles inside, carved books, and books with 3D models that children could build, such as "The Machines of Leonardo da Vinci".
In another large area, visitors would find Chinese publishers, which made a very large presence at the 2018 Bologna Fair, since China was named as the Guest of Honor of the event this year.
"Currently, picture books seem to be the most trending among Chinese children, but our catalogue is very varied," Lina Shen, general manager of China Children's Press and Publication Group (CCPPG) said.
She explained foreign publishers were showing a growing interest in the Chinese market, and Chinese publishers like CCPPG were becoming more and more international as well, in order to satisfy a more mature domestic demand.
As China's largest press and publication house for children, CCPPG would cover a wide range of books, including comics and fiction, non-fiction, historical titles for young readers, and classical stories.
Among the many new titles and colorful covers on showcase, visitors could in fact find illustrated Chinese traditional tales by authors such as Xue Gang, among others. "Chinese love classic tales, and still ask for them," Shen said.
Yet, international exchanges were crucial today and -- in this perspective -- the Bologna Fair would provide a good opportunity for contacts with foreign authors, illustrators, and other publishers. "We always decide on the base of the quality of the book, not of the country... it must be a good book, and suitable for Chinese children," Shen pointed out.
An example was CCPPG's recently established partnership with Italian publisher Giunti Editore, which would entail launching new titles in both countries together. The project included one of their latest publications, namely "The Magic Straw of Tu YouYou" (Chinese version launched in December) on the life of the renowned Chinese scientist and 2015 Medicine Nobel Prize winner.
A few meters away, Jieli Publishing House, another major Chinese publisher, explained their understanding about the latest developments of the market.
"The children's book market has witnessed big changes," Bing Bai, editor-in-chief of Jieli and a writer of childhood's stories, told Xinhua. "Children in the past thought reading was just a matter of education. Now, they have discovered it is a lifestyle, and fun," he stressed.
The company published both Chinese original stories and translated titles, and much of its recent production was focused on adventure books and fantasy books.
According to Bai, Jieli's activity did not suffer the impact from electronics, such as computers, tablets, and video games. "The Chinese market is booming, and for many reasons," he explained.
China's large population means millions of underage kids. And thanks to its continuous economic growth, the country's demand for cultural products also increased fast. Chinese parents are eager for good children books and are able to afford it.
Furthermore, the editor-in-chief believed the Chinese children's book market was more mature than in the past and very open, because the government was encouraging both Chinese publications and registered copyrights.
As an accomplished author who was awarded with several prizes, Bai has been writing for children for about 40 years.
Among his last works was the book "Bird in the cloud" co-authored with UK-based Chinese illustrator Yu Rong. From his point of view, cooperation with international illustrators is good to ensure a further development of the children's book industry.
"Illustrators from other countries have different ways to interpret a story, so that it may become easier for kids (outside China) to love and appreciate it," Bai stressed.
"Secondly, this cooperation may help Chinese publishers improve in picture books, which are relatively new for China."