The spring pilgrimage to Bologna is a high point of the children's publisher's year. More fun than Frankfurt and busier than London, the Bologna children's book fair is the place to tout your new titles. With over 1,400 publishers from 73 countries, the huge exhibition halls dazzle visitors with countless books - "more books than children", commented Tomi Ungerer, one of this year's visiting illustrators. For four hectic days last month, editors and rights managers sprinted from one continent to another, renewing friendships as well as business contacts, in pursuit of foreign publishers for their books.
It may seem a long way from the child in a reading corner, surrounded by Alfie, Elmer, Old Bear and the rest, but without the fair, these characters, and many others, wouldn't be as familiar in other parts of the world as they are here. Mick Inkpen's Kipper stories have sold more than 2 million copies in 17 countries, including China, India, Vietnam and South Africa. Known as Tippi in Italy, Casimir in France, Schnuffel in Germany and Chuli in Spain, Kipper's transcultural appeal is an editor's dream.
Books may be published with different covers in different countries and the text more or less adapted to suit local tastes. There are strange cases of "censorship": the American editor who ruled out a toddler's bare bottom; the banning of books about goats in the Bible Belt states; and the unsuspected hazards of going out for a Coke.
A new publisher setting up a list may arrive in Bologna with a few books and proofs in a shopping trolley; while companies such as Dorling Kindersley construct great citadels in the exhibition halls.
Barefoot Books has a growing multicultural list, which this year includes An African Alphabet, which sold in four languages, and The Barefoot Book of Songs for Survival, a collection of celebratory tribal songs and chants, which aims to heighten children's awareness of traditional ways of life. Yesterday's Girls, Barefoot's new venture into historical fiction for seven to 10-year-olds, was launched with Masha's First Ballet. An Adventure in Revolutionary Russia and Caterina's Summer. An Adventure in 15th-century Italy. Two retellings of African myths, The Secret River, by Laurens van der Post, illustrated by Larry Norton, a Zimbabwean artist, and Marriage of the Rain Goddess, by Margaret Wolfson and Clifford Parms will be published next year.
Myths and legends also featured prominently on other lists. Orion Children's Books introduced The Golden Hoard, the first book in a project which will build up to a collection of 100 retellings by Geraldine MacCaughrean, illustrated by the new artist, Bee Wiley. The Dorling Kindersley Illustrated Book of World Myths, written by Neil Philip and illustrated by Nilesh Mistry, is arranged thematically and evocatively illustrated with artwork and photographs of landscapes and objects. James Riordan has compiled an anthology of Native American Indian stories for Pavilion Books. The Songs My Paddle Sings, illustrated by Michael Foreman, is the result of 15 years' research and travelling in Canada and the USA.
Pavilion also showed After the War Was Over, Michael Foreman's autobiographical sequel to the award-winning War Boy, describing life in Suffolk after the summer of 1945 until he started art college at the age of 15. A Christmas Carol, the first of Quentin Blake's new series of illustrated classics will be published in October.
The It Doesn't Matter Suit, Sylvia Plath's recently rediscovered children's story, illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner, attracted a crowd of German and American publishers to the Faber stand, where a new Cricklepit story from Gene Kemp, Peter Carey's first children's book, The Big Bazoohley, to be published in September, and Garrison Keillor's wonderful cat song, Cat, You Better Come Home added to the interest.
Kathy Henderson's and Patrick Benson's The Little Boat must have lifted the spirits of many visitors to the Walker Books stand with its fine seascapes and lyrical text. A new series of hardback fiction for infants by Anita Jeram and Colin West will also be published in August.
Kingfisher Books announced a new venture with D C Thomson: information books using characters from The Beano. In one, the Bash Street Kids have an adventure in a museum.
Every year, the book fair sets new standards in illustration, both through its exhibitions and its prizes. The French publisher, Syros, won two non-fiction awards. A study of child prostitution in Asia by the journalist Franck Pavloff received the senior award. Enfants prostitues en Asie is from the series, J'accuse, for 12 to16-year- olds which also includes books on drugs, torture and the death penalty for minors. Each book is based on fictionalised case-studies, supported by documents, testimonies and information about organisations active in the field. The winner of the junior award, Incommodites, ("Awkward Things"), a guide to coping with everything from snoring to feeling sick, is one of the Petits Carnets series of Filofax-style directories for 7 to 10 -year- olds.
Sara Midda won the young adult fiction prize for Growing Up and Other Vices, published by Jonathan Cape, praised by the judges for its "witty and original insights into the relationship between children and grown-ups". Was machen die MAdchen? ("What are the girls doing?") by Nikolaus Heidelbach, published in Germany by Beltz Gelberg and in an English language edition in Canada by Annick Press, won the junior fiction award. The Kaleidoscope series of interactive information books, originated by Gallimard in France and published here by Kingfisher, won an award for outstanding originality.
Electronic publishing plays an increasingly important role at the fair. This year Aleen Stein of the American company, Voyager, led a workshop on the role of the author and illustrator in the new media. The publisher of pioneering CD-Roms such as A Silly Noisy House and the Amanda Stories, Steen said that electronic publishing had not yet achieved the high standard of illustration on display in the exhibition halls. "The computer colour screen can be gorgeous, " she said, "but most programs are not. We have to ask if it's worth the expense and if it isn't, we should say so."
Alan Snow and David Furlaw of Domestic Funk Products demonstrated P.A. W.S, an enthusiastically received CD Rom that grew out of Snow's picture book How Dogs Really Work (HarperCollins). Multimedia requires a new creative process, they said, depending on close collaboration between artist, author, sound engineer and computer technician, and technical systems that are much more flexible than books.
Conor O'Nolan of Pixel Magic in Dublin worked initially with children's author Martin Waddell to produce a CD Rom based on The Great Green Mouse Disaster (Andersen Press). Philippe Dupasquier's cinematic, action-packed illustrations, redrawn for the program, are ideally suited to animation and show how the best of children's book illustration can be successfully translated to a new art form.