Diversity and inclusion is high on the agenda at this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair, with US and UK publishers keen to snap up stories by authors from backgrounds which have previously been underrepresented in publishing.
One of the hottest books at the fair is Kereen Getten’s début Middle Grade title, based on the author’s childhood experiences in Jamaica. North American rights were sold to Kelsey Horton at PRH US imprint Delacorte in a “major” six-figure deal, while Sarah Odedina at Pushkin Press acquired UK and Commonwealth rights after a four-way auction. Both two-book deals were brokered by Alice Sutherland-Hawes at the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency.
The novel is about 12-year-old Clara, who can’t remember anything about the previous summer and whose life changes forever when a new girl arrives on the island. It will be published as Storm Girl in the US and The Last Girl on Sycamore Hill in the UK in early 2021. Odedina said: “Kereen’s novel is the début of an exciting new talent in Middle Grade fiction. She has written a delightful, heartwarming novel and created a kind and loving Caribbean community that is not without tensions and secrets, as we find out what happened last summer.” An early version of the novel was highly commended in the 2017 Faber FAB prize, which champions authors and illustrators from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Meanwhile, Gemma Cooper of The Bent Agency was closing “intense” US and UK auctions for B B Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers Middle Grade fantasy trilogy as The Bookseller went to press. Cooper concluded an Israeli auction on the eve of the fair; the series has been sold in nine territories, including Brazil, Germany, Italy and world Spanish.
Cooper signed Alston after discovering him on #DVPit, the Twitter hashtag through which writers from underrepresented backgrounds pitch their ideas to agents. Cooper said: “People are interested that he comes from a diverse background and there are diverse characters, but they are buying it because it’s great Middle Grade fantasy, full stop.”
Another hot title is Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o’s début picture book Sulwe, illustrated by Vashti Harrison. Molly Glick at CAA sold US rights to Simon & Schuster before the fair, with a “major” UK deal imminent and a slew of offers on the table for translation rights agency ILA.
Hachette Children’s Group UK c.e.o. Hilary Murray Hill said the publisher had enjoyed success with Planet Omar, Zanib Mian and illustrator Nasaya Mafaridik’s Middle Grade title, which was sold to Putnam in the US. She added: “People are particularly interested in [BAME] voices. They want authenticity. There are relatively few [BAME] authors’ books on submission, but more titles will come out in due course. It feels like there is a real shift in children’s publishing.”