Demand for Chinese stories turns a page at Italian book fair

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Visitors browse books of a Chinese publishing house at the Bologna Children's Book Fair on March 7. [Photo/Xinhua]

A picture book series titled Palace Cats, depicting a few of the furry occupants of the Palace Museum, the huge national museum complex housed in the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing, caught the eyes of nearly all visitors to the exhibition area of a Chinese publishing house at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, which ran from March 6-9 in the central Italian city.

In its 60th edition, the annual book fair is a major international forum for publishers, authors and illustrators of children's literature to exchange ideas, forge bonds and select partners.

At the 32-square-meter stand of China Science and Technology Press, hundreds of Chinese story books and science books for children were on display. Audrey Lorenzini, an independent publisher from Padova, Italy, discussed copyright issues with the Chinese exhibitors.

"It's very difficult for children in Italy to access books about Chinese culture," she said while looking for books for Italians who want to learn about China.

Publishers and licensing professionals were also drawn to the exhibition booths of other Chinese publishers, such as Beijing-based UTOP publishing house and China Children's Press and Publication Group, to seek deals for cooperation.

Popular selections from these industry insiders included Palace Cats, which tactfully integrates information about the 24 solar terms of the Chinese lunar calendar and the imperial palace into stories, as well as My Hillside, My Fallen Leaves, an educational tale.

"I like the style of the illustration. It's bright, simple but impressive," Christina Wu, principal consultant with Wellread and Boekenreis Agency, comments. She says she wants to publish My Hillside, My Fallen Leaves in Dutch for Dutch readers. "I am also impressed by the core message the book conveys — support and help between friends foster their mental growth."

Children's books published by China Science and Technology Press on display at the fair. [Photo/Xinhua]

Zhu Weina, senior project manager with the book fair organizer's Chinese subsidiary Ronbo BolognaFiere Shanghai Ltd, says three works from China won major awards at this year's Bologna fair — "the best performance Chinese original stories have achieved at the book fair in recent years".

"This is an important signal to the world that Chinese original stories are becoming more competitive," she says. "In the past, China was generally seen by industry insiders as a major buyer of content and copyright in the global market. Now that China is growing in content creation, it is attracting more buyers worldwide."

At the Bologna fair, China Science and Technology Press inked cooperation deals with Brazilian and Russian publishing houses to publish 10 sets of Chinese works in their countries.

Praising the way Chinese history is presented in the books and the illustrations, Carlos Eduardo Cavalheiro Filho, chief executive of Bom Bom Book's LTDA of Brazil, says he and his whole team are excited about the cooperation with the Chinese press.

"Many (book) contents we translated are already famous in Brazil," he says. "We're looking forward to publishing these works in Portuguese and selling them in the country."

Slava Fedorov, chief executive of Russia's IRSI Publishing House, says many Russians have a basic understanding of traditional Chinese culture but are not familiar with modern Chinese literature, especially children's literature. "We are just beginning to open this market and introducing modern Chinese literature to Russia, and we see the interest from our readers," he says.

Over 1,400 exhibitors from 90 countries and regions attended the fair, including world-renowned publishers, such as Penguin Random House and HarperCollins Publishers.

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