Hans Christian Andersen's Birthday Bash: The 2005 Bologna Children's Book Fair

Article excerpt

A 200th anniversary normally wouldn't count for much in a city that has a university founded in 1088 and a street plan devised by the Romans. But this is Bologna. Italy, home to the largest children's book fair in the world, and 2005 marks the 200th birthday of one of the world's great story-tellers, Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875).

At the 42nd Bologna Children's Book Fair April 13-16, organizers pulled out all the stops to honor the great Dane. A wonderful exhibit, "Illustrating Andersen," hosted in a 14th-century palazzo on Bologna's main square, showcased stunning original illustrations on themes from Andersen's stories created by nine winners of the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award, sponsored by IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People. Equally exciting were the 40 graphic narratives created by 10 irreverent and iconoclastic comic-book artists whom fair organizers asked to reinterpret Andersen's Ole Lukoie (The Sandman) in a modern context.

The Bologna fair serves as a central meeting place for children's publishers, writers, illustrators, and librarians from many countries. Steven Roxburgh of Front Street Books in Asheville, North Carolina, has been coming since 1980 when he was a fledgling editor for Farrar Straus and Giroux. Front Street is one of a small number of American publishers that specialize in international children's books. "In fact, everyone's trying to 'do foreign' these days," Roxburgh said, "but without a network of longstanding relationships with editors in other countries you know and can trust, you are lost."

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Kid lit overseas

Roxburgh works closely with publishers in Europe who introduce him to quality works on other continents. Many of the problems in crossing borders stem from differing tastes and taboos in books for children and young adults. "In the YA sector," Roxburgh says, "we do violence, the Europeans do sex and drugs, and neither side is comfortable with the limits placed on these themes by the other. …