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Realism in, dystopia out in youth fiction at Bologna book fair

March 27, 2014|By Hector Tobar
  • "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio is one of a growing number of successful middle-grade books.
"Wonder" by R.J. Palacio is one of a growing number of successful… (Knopf Books for Young Readers )

Every year, publishers, editors, agents and authors gather in Italy for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. This week, the buzz in Bologna is about the growing market for middle-grade fiction. 

If you have a child in the 9-to-12-year-old range -- as I do -- you’re grateful for the authors who write the first, prose-driven (as opposed to picture driven) books your child will read.

My daughter's own reading list over the past year has included several middle-grade books, such as R.J. Palacio's 2010 “Wonder,” about a 10-year-old boy with a severe facial deformity who just wants to fit in at a mainstream school.

“Wonder” hit No. 1 on many bestseller lists, and has sold 1 million copies since its 2012 release, with foreign rights scooped up in 40 territories. A new Palacio book, “365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts,” is due from Random House this summer, and is circulating this week in Bologna, Publisher's Weekly writes. There are also high hopes for "The Zoo at the Edge of the World," by Eric Kahn Gale, which features a boy protagonist who stutters. 

“I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade,” agent Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency told Publisher’s Weekly.

Publisher’s Weekly also writes that in YA fiction, “contemporary realism” is starting to win out over “all things paranormal and dystopian.” As one agent put it to: People are tired of seeing “the collapse of society.” In the realistic YA vein, look for “Everything That Makes You” by debut author Moriah McStay, in 2015 from HarperCollins.

McStay’s website describes a book that takes up themes similar to “Wonder.” Her book follows a girl with two names, Fiona and Fi.

“At five years old, Fiona Doyle suffered a freak accident that left her face badly burned. Fi Doyle, however, did not,” McStay writes. “‘Everything That Makes You’ follows the simultaneous lives of both girls, showing all the ways their paths differ -- and overlap. Because everyone has a road to walk, no matter how many detours are along the way.”

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hector.tobar@latimes.com

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