Meet author, artist & ‘library guy’ Jacob Grant

Jacob Grant is an award-winning Oak Park author, illustrator, and dad who makes picture books, including Umami, No Pants!, and Bear’s Scare. He won the prestigious Bologna Children’s Book Fair Illustration Exhibition earlier this year.

And he designed our new acorn character mascot for the Pop-Up Library initiative, which debuted in April! Learn more and help us name the acorn »

Below, Jacob shares more about his creative process, some of his favorite books, and why he doesn’t mind being known as “a library guy”!

How did you get your start as an artist?

JG: As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to make art. I was a shy kid, and art gave me a voice. Lucky for me, that voice was encouraged by my family, and through all those years growing up art was part of my life.

Which eventually led me to the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where I started as a painting major, and later switched to graphic design out of survival concerns. I worked as a graphic designer for five years or so after school, always plotting how I could get back to making more art.

How did you become a professional children’s book author and illustrator?

It was around this time that our niece was born, and my wife and I found ourselves shopping for children’s books. I remember being amazed at how many wonderful books there were on the shelves, but more importantly, how many awful books there were. Being naive, I said to myself, “Surely, I could make a picture book!” 

After a number of failed attempts later, I learned that making a good book was not so easy. But the best thing I did at this time was to simply keep making stuff. As soon as I sent out a concept to publishers and agents, I’d start a new one. And eventually one of these ideas found its way to an editor’s desk. Since that day, I’ve written and illustrated 12 books.

A sketchbook page of animal characters drawn in pencil
A page from Jacob’s sketchbook, showing ideas for a pop-up library mascot character

What makes a good character? A good story?

The best way I know to tell a story is to start with a character that wants something. Like a bear that wants a spider out of their home (Bear’s Scare). Or a goat in a petting zoo that wants personal space (Through With The Zoo). Or just a rascal that has decided they do not want to wear pants (No Pants!).

If you have a character that wants something, the story can tell how they go about getting it, or how they fail. It might not always be a good story, but it’s a good place to start!

What’s your creative process?

My creative process almost always begins in my sketchbook. I draw every day—sometimes things from my imagination, sometimes observation; other times, recording something funny or poignant from the day. When I’m lucky, one of these drawings will have a story to tell.

What are some of your recent favorite books?

For kids

For adults

How do you and your family use the library?

We love our Oak Park Library! I probably love it most. When my son was in kindergarten he was excited to share what I do, and instead of saying that I was an author or illustrator, he described my job as being “a library guy.” Which is a pretty good description! I spend loads of time in libraries and working with librarians (who are just the best people), and I adore a good library.

You’ll often find me walking out of the new picture book section with a stack so tall it’s sliding out of my arms. I’m even guilty of squeezing some of my new favorite books onto the display shelves. If you spot me, don’t hesitate to say hello—I’m always happy to suggest a good book!