Just a couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of jurying for the 2012 BolognaRagazzi Awards for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. The annual weeklong Fair in Bologna, Italy, is the type of event many publishers in children’s literature attend, given that its primary purpose is to buy and sell copyright. This year’s Fair is March 19 to 22.

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But it’s also an exciting event for artists and those interested in contemporary international illustration. The Ragazzi Awards are given, in fact, in four categories and honor the artwork and overall design of illustrated books from across the globe.

Unless you annually follow the Ragazzi Award announcements or read one of Elizabeth Bird’s many posts about her experience at the 2011 Fair, which she happily described as “the full assault of children’s literature advocates from all around the globe,” you may know little about the event and the categories for which they give awards. That’s why today I’m here to briefly run down the awards, which were just announced this week. That’s right. If you’re muttering “Ragazzi hubba WHAT?” to yourself, I’ll do my best to set you straight. (After all, as Betsy wrote at School Library Journal in her July 2011 write-up about her overall experience at the Fair, you don’t often run into American children’s librarians there, meaning that the Ragazzi Awards may be relatively confusing for even hard-core children’s literature aficionados in this country.) 

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Back to the celebration of illustration that the entire affair is: For one thing, the Fair annually picks a guest-of-honor country upon whom a huge spotlight is directed at the weeklong event. Last year, it was Lithuania. This year, the work of children’s book artists from Portugal will be on display. Fascinating, yes? Even though I juried this year’s awards, I won’t be heading back to the Fair in March, but I hope one year to experience it and see the plethora of art they have on display. Not only are illustrations from the guest-of-honor country on display, but each year a selection committee chooses artwork from all over the world to be included in an Illustrators Exhibition.

For anyone interested in international children’s book illustration, this is simply a must-see event.

And, as mentioned, the Ragazzi Award itself also celebrates art. As their site states, the awards are given for “the best books in terms of graphic and editorial design,” and this year nearly a thousand books from countries all over (France, Poland, Lebanon, China, Slovakia, India, the United States and much more) were submitted, the list accessible at the Bologna site. Awards are given in the category of Fiction, Nonfiction, New Horizons (a special recognition for Arab, Latin American, Asian and African countries), and Opera Prima (given to debut artists).

secret river This year’s Fiction winner hails from Belgium with Mentions going to France and the United States (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Secret River, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon).






orani The Nonfiction winner includes stunning graphic art from Poland with mentions from France and, once again, the  States (Claire A. Nivola’s beautiful Orani: My Father’s Village gets a well-deserved nod, as well as Ogden Nash’s Lineup for Yesterday, illustrated by C.F. Payne.)






mention opera prima The winner in the New Horizons category hails from Mexico and is accompanied by mentions from Iran and India, and the Opera Prima award goes to a debut artist in Lebanon. Opera Prima 2012 also gives three mentions—from France, Great Britain and Korea. (Who, I ask, here in the States is going to snag these for publication? Please oh please. Just look at the beautiful cover of Hyeon-ju Lee’s book!)

This year a new award, given for “excellence and innovation” in the category of children's books apps, will be given, but this was not an award for which I juried.

Fascinating. I’ve already said that, I realize. But the Fair is a truly unique event, given that, as the Fair organizers like to describe it, they’re providing a “broad picture of the most innovative trends in children’s illustration at a world level.”

I had a wonderful time jurying in Bologna. I’m still pinching myself for having had the opportunity to see so much international children’s book art. And I return home to the States with an appreciation for what the Ragazzi Awards bring to our field, while simultaneously having an even deeper regard for our home-grown awards.

Having juried last August for the Society of Illustrators in New York, another award given specifically for illustration, I also leave both experiences with a reverence for the varying goals and purposes behind these many awards that honor picture books. These awards given with illustration/design solely in mind are balanced by other awards given to illustrated books—such as, to name only several, some of the ALA’s Youth Media Awards (Caldecott, Geisel, etc.) and the Boston-Globe Horn Book Awards—that consider the artwork as well as whether or not the text and illustration play nicely together. (And these include panels of folks who spend an entire year or nearly a year poring over books, another major difference in those awards as compared to the two I juried.)

There’s a little something for everyone. And it’s a beautiful thing for picture book lovers everywhere. Magnifico!

Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.