Vernon Hills author to read at Illinois State Fair

Lori Degman travels throughout Lake County as an itinerant hearing teacher, which means she helps students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

She now has a second career, as well. One she picked up in 2005 after a brief try 20 years ago.

The Vernon Hills resident published a picture book in 2010 called “1 Zany Zoo” that tells the story of what a young boy saw when he snuck into the zoo before it opened. It just so happened that he saw the animals steal the zookeeper’s key, and they had a grand time dancing and playing games.

On Aug. 16, Degman will be reading her book aloud with Lt. Gov. Shelia Simon at the State Fair in Springfield. The opportunity comes at a perfect time because Degman’s second book “Cock-a-Doodle Oops!” was released in May.

Q. How did you get selected to read at the Illinois State Fair?

A. Last year the Illinois Reads Council started the “Illinois Reads” program and my book was put on that list. They wanted to highlight fun, quality books that were written by people in Illinois. It was a surprise to me because my book came out in 2010 and so I thought anything to do with it would be long over. For about six months last year my name and the book title were on the radio during public service announcements that encourage reading. And then Lt. Gov. Shelia Simon decided to incorporate Illinois Reads into this year’s state fair and she reached out to all the authors on the list. The whole thing is a pleasant surprise. I’m so thrilled.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for “1 Zany Zoo?”

A. One day the line “You’ll never believe what I saw at the zoo” popped in my head, and I thought “Wow, that would make for a great opening line.” For a while, that actually was the first line of the book, and the title of the book too. Like all projects, writing a book takes multiple versions and I started this one 20 years ago when my kids were young. I don’t remember if we had been to a zoo or saw something on TV. I have never liked how animals are in cages, so maybe subconsciously I wanted to see them set free.

Q. Becoming a published author is often a tedious process full of rejections. How difficult was your road?

A. Persistence is the key to everything in life, especially so in writing. Sometimes I think it even trumps talent. You have to learn not to take things to heart, because there are a lot of different types of editors out there. I started working on books again in 2005. I think “1 Zany Zoo” was rejected eight times, but then I submitted it to the Cheerios New Authors contest in 2008 and I won. Simon & Schuster Books was a partner in the contest, so they called me and offered me a contract. It was revised a couple more times before it was published in 2010. The story was shrunk down and put in 2 million Cheerios boxes as part of their First Book program that sent breakfast and books to underserved schools throughout the country. My second book “Cock-a-Doodle Oops!” was rejected three times before Creston Books accepted it.

Q. Why did you first start writing?

A. I was reading to my kids a lot and we always enjoyed the ones that rhyme and are silly. I then started putting catchy punch lines together for different people’s events. That’s when I realized I could put something together.

Q. Do you have any other books on the horizon or are you done?

A. I have six completed manuscripts for children’s picture books that my agent is trying to sell right now. I can’t say much because things sometimes change when an editor shows interest, but I can say they mostly involve talking animals and they’re intended to be funny with a lot of puns. I’m big on puns.

Q. As an educator, parent and published author, you must be a big proponent of children reading more and playing video games less?

A. Yes, I’m obviously a huge believer in reading, but I’m not a big fan of how the schools are pushing everything down a grade level. Reading is definitely the greatest skill you can have because you can’t learn anything without knowing how to read, but there’s no reason a kindergartner needs to read. Back in the day kindergarten used to be about learning social skills, colors and names of animals. Now we have students in the lower levels reading things they aren’t ready for. In my opinion, I think it started with parents who were too anxious for their kids to grow up and schools accommodating the demands. Also, the advent of preschool probably took away some of the kindergarten material. Both parents are now working and the preschool business boomed when they saw more kids in day care. Then it became a trend to have your kids start early.

Q. How do you feel about the growing use of digital media like tablets and iPads that are being blamed for killing bookstores?

A. When they first came out there was a big panic that this would be the death of children’s literature. But recent research shows that picture books are the slowest growing part of the digital market. People seem to still enjoy having their kids on their lap turning the real pages together. There are obviously pros, like easier storage and instant access. But there are cons as well, like losing that physical connection and associating many different parts of your life with one machine.

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