Jason Olson, Deseret News
Illustrator Julie Olson reads at the Provo Children's Book Festival at the city library on Saturday. Over 30 authors and illustrators attended the two-day event.

Her little hands clutched the blue book, swaying back and forth with each movement of the stroller as Savannah Jeffcoat's mom pushed the 9-month-old through the ballroom at the Provo City Library Saturday morning.

Savannah and her 7-year-old brother, Chandler, had just picked a free book each. The books were a gift for attending the inaugural Provo Children's Book Festival, an event sponsored by the library.

The festival "is a good thing because it shows children that there are lots of books to choose from," Sonya Jeffcoat, the children's mom, said. "It inspires kids to read."

The book festival brought together families, authors, illustrators, aspiring writers and artists Friday and Saturday for book signings, puppet shows, crafts, illustration demos and lectures.

"We're trying to have something for everyone," Gene Nelson, Provo library director, said. "The goal, like just about everything we do, is to encourage people to enjoy the magic and wonder of books."

The library kicked off the event Friday night with speaker Gerald McDermott, author of multiple Caldecott Award-winning books. More than 80 people attended and kept McDermott autographing books for an hour after the lecture.

On Saturday, the library met its goal to have something for everyone by catering to both children and adults.

Beginning writers who have not yet been published attended the festival to get tips from more than 30 local and regional authors and illustrators conducting workshops, sitting on panels and giving demonstrations.

Krystal Meldrum, an aspiring children's writer and illustrator, left her four kids at home in Payson and attended the event hoping to learn how to become a Caldecott and Newberry Medal winner.

"I feel bad I didn't bring my kids, but I wanted to enjoy it so much," Meldrum said. "I get so excited about this. I just wanted to get inspiration, and I have some questions about the best way to get published."

After a five-year break, Meldrum is becoming serious about children's literature. Recently she began waking up to paint from 5-7 each morning while her children sleep.

Attending the book festival at the library allowed Meldrum the opportunity to receive advice and gain new ideas from published authors and illustrators for free. Most illustration or children's literature conferences she has attended cost from $100 to $400, she said.

Others, like Cory Nimer and his family, just attended the conference to have some fun.

"We come to pretty much every event at the Provo library," said Nimer, who works as a cataloger at the BYU's Harold B. Lee Library. "Reading is important, and it is good to get them into it early on."

More Utah Valley residents will have the opportunity to introduce their children to good literature next year. The Provo City Library plans to make the Children's Book Festival an annual event.

After all, "you can never go wrong when you get around a group of young kids who are really excited about books," Salt Lake City author Kim Justesen said.


E-mail: lriddle@desnews.com