I once worked for a library system in a more urban area, which hosted an annual series of presentations by local children’s book authors and illustrators. There were enough established names who lived in that vicinity, like LeUyen Pham and Bob Barner, that it was a pretty big deal. Many of the presentations took place at schools, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend some of them, as starstruck as any student. Our guest speakers told stories, taught kids how to draw characters from their books, sang songs, and generally made books seem welcoming and book creators seem like the kind of people you’d want to be friends with. Years later, that experience sticks with me. The children who saw a real, live author or illustrator speak to them and their classmates understood that books are made by real people. People who, when they were kids, liked to draw and make up stories and who never stopped. People for whom their imagination was an asset and who live a creative life. Those kids gained a role model that day. 

I haven’t written or illustrated a book (yet!), but I think I’ve also benefitted from meeting authors and hearing them speak about their work. Yes, a professional illustrator is in a league beyond me, but they are real people who work at their art, who have false starts and frustrations, but who believe in themselves and their work enough to put it out into the world. When I hear about what lies between a story idea and a finished product, it makes creative work feel less miraculous and more attainable. 

As adults, most of us don’t have authors giving presentations at our workplaces, but we do have opportunities to attend author talks through bookstores and libraries. While we might not have quite as many big-name authors in our neck of the woods as in a big city, JCLS has some great author talks coming up this summer, in person and online. You might find inspiration to pursue your own creative work, you’ll almost certainly learn something new, and hearing directly from an author gives you a peek into the story behind the story. How did the characters get their names? What brought the author to write a book on that topic? What didn’t make it into the book? What happened before the book began? What are they working on next? 

And of course, one of the greatest things about art and artists is that they give us insight into who we are and what is important. Once, at a conference, I heard picture book legend Kevin Henkes talk about the mindset he aims for when writing a book for children. He said that he strives to remember that the kinds of challenges which might seem minor from an adult perspective often feel huge for a child, and he honors that in his stories for children. When they read his books (or have them read aloud) children feel understood. I’ve often thought about that reminder to see things from a child’s perspective when interacting with children at work or at home, and I feel lucky to have had the chance to hear Mr. Henkes speak. 

Beyond formal author talks, the world of social media has made some authors more accessible to readers than ever before. Many have accounts on various sites where readers can access news and sometimes even see exclusive content from their favorite artists and authors. The type of access varies from author to author, based on their personality and comfort level, but most offer both information about their work and a window into who they are. This, too, makes it seem more believable that the line between who is a reader and who is a writer might not be as stark a division as one might think. And even though I know that Neil Gaiman (to pick a random example) and I are not really friends, knowing a bit more about what he’s like on social media makes me all the more certain that we would be friends if we ever had the chance to get to know each other, and that makes me enjoy his work even more. 

I asked some JCLS library staff which authors and illustrators they follow online, and here’s a partial list you can use as a starting place when looking for accounts to follow: Neil Gaiman, T. Kingfisher, Seanan McGuire, Grace Lin, Shannon Hale, John and Hank Green (together and separately), Mo Willems, Xiran Jay Zhao, Elise Hurst, Vashti Harrison, Yuko Shimizu, Mary Engelbreit, Gretchen Rubin, Stephen Graham Jones, Shane Hawk, Rachel Hartman, Jason Pargin, Hannah Nicole Maehrer, Amy Tan, Louise Penny, Brandon Sanderson, Chuck Tingle, Dan Santat, and R.F. Kuang. Of course, there are many more. If you are curious, I encourage you to check if any of your favorite creators are on a platform you use. 

Back to the here-and now, I highly recommend looking into JCLS’ array of author programs this summer. Would you like to meet a cyclist who’s ridden every one of Oregon’s official scenic byways? Pick from one of the five in-person talks he’s giving at our branches this week. Do you have a child who likes to write? Bring them to one of the nine workshops over the course of the summer with local children’s author Valerie Coulman. Interested in hearing bestselling authors chat about their books, their careers, and their upcoming projects? Register for our ongoing series of virtual author talks for children and adults. This is just a partial list of what’s on offer in the next few months. For a more comprehensive list of author events, visit our online event calendar.  

Here’s to a summer of inspiration, enjoyment, and new kinds of engagement with books and authors!