Salon is the toast of Paris

29th November 1996 at 00:00
The biggest children's book fair in Europe open to the public, the Montreuil Salon du Livre de Jeunesse, is at its height this weekend in the eastern suburb of Paris.

Authors, illustrators and publishers are mingling with 150,000 visitors - children, parents, teachers, librarians and anyone with an interest in young people and their reading habits. Such salons - regional events where children's publishers sell direct to the public - are a French phenomenon.

The Montreuil mega-salon far eclipses English events such as the Northern Children's Book Festival, which attracted around 6,000 children and adults at its closing gala day last week. However, the NCBF programme also included two weeks of events in schools throughout the north-east, while the Montreuil Salon is packed into six days on a single site.

As well as the formal book fair with more than 100 publishers' stands, there are exhibitions, talks, discussions, concerts, workshops and a tribute to the artist Claude Boujon, who died last year.

The 1996 theme is Creating the World and there are debates about the myths of the Creation and the Frankenstein story, and meetings with a palaeontologist on the origins of mankind, and a physicist on Einstein, time and space.

Czech-born Peter Sis is the guest of honour and the British are represented by John Burningham, Michael Morpurgo and Nick Butterworth. The fair is not confined to traditional books - it also features new developments in CD-Roms and the Internet.

The Salon was set up 12 years ago by the departement of Seine-Saint-Denis, where a third of the ethnically diverse population is under 25. The authority wanted to make available a wider selection of creative, original, high quality literature for children and young people and to increase French publishers' contribution to this field.

At the time, says Salon director Henriette Zoughebi, the children's book market was "60 per cent Anglo-Saxon translations". Now titles for children represent "one of the most dynamic sectors" of French publishing, helped by the Salon's Totems book awards.

The past 12 years have seen a boom in publishing for children under six and exciting developments in illustration - the Salon also runs a biennial artists' competition, Figures Futur, to find new talent.

The 12th Salon du Livre de Jeunesse, Centre de Promotion du Livre de Jeunesse, 3 rue Francois-Debergue, 93100 Montreuil, telephone (00 33 1) 48.57.57. 78, open to the public from 9am (10am Sunday) to 7pm until Sunday (Monday is a trade day).

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