Author Lori Degman currently lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago, where she teaches children with deafness and hearing loss, and after this year, she will be a full time writer. She has written two picture books, 1 Zany Zoo and Cock-a-Doodle Oops!, and this week Sleeping Bear Press published Norbert’s Big Dream. Here, she talks about humor in children’s picture books and a little pig with a big dream.
When did you get your start as a writer and/or illustrator? How long have you been writing and illustrating?
I started writing picture book stories when my sons were little and I was reading to them all the time. I wrote for about five years, with no publishing success. When my younger son started kindergarten, I went back to work as a teacher and stopped writing for 12 years. When I came back to writing, I wrote for a couple more years, until my picture book manuscript, 1 Zany Zoo, won the Cheerios New Author Contest and I had my first book published.
In your own words, describe what Norbert’s Big Dream is about.
Norbert’s Big Dream is the story of a pig with a can-do attitude. He’s always dreamed of swimming the English Channel and trains hard to get ready. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know where the English Channel is, so he can’t swim it! There’s a nice surprise waiting for him when he returns to the farm.
What are your tips for including humor in writing for children?
When writing humor, I’d do any or all of the following:
1 – Use wordplay and puns.
2 – Set the reader up to expect one thing – then surprise them with something else.
3 – Have characters act in ways and say things that are surprising.
4 – Have the text say one thing and the illustrations show the opposite.
What were some of your favorite books as a child? Authors, illustrators, you name them.
As a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss, Bill Pete and Maurice Sendak. As an adult reading to my kids I loved James Stevenson, Shel Silverstein, William Steig and Roald Dahl.
Top 3 favorite authors and illustrators that inspire you today?
I love Jon Agee, Sam Garton, Mac Barnett and Oliver Jeffers.
Your previous books, 1 Zany Zoo, and Cock-a-Doodle Oops! are also animal-centric. Why do you like including animals in your children’s books?
I’m not sure why I write about animals so much. Maybe it’s because there are so many great puns you can use when writing about animals—especially in rhyme. Also, you can have animals do things that children can’t do. My newest project has people instead of animals. That’ll be interesting.
How did you first have the idea for Norbert? He’s a little pig with a big dream to cross the English Channel.
I know I got the idea at the SCBWI New York conference when I was there in 2013, but I can’t remember exactly which session and speaker made me think of Norbert. I misplaced my folder so I lost all my notes! I wrote the first draft on the plane ride home from that conference. After finishing the book, I realized Norbert is a lot like me—not sure whether that’s good or bad!
What do you love about creating picture books for children (and adults)?
There’s so much I love about it! I love the process, especially when I get in the flow and can write a lot before getting blocked! I love knowing that kids—most I don’t even know—are reading my books! I love being able to go to schools and speak with kids about writing and reading! I love all the people I’ve met through my writing—fellow authors, illustrators, editors, parents and kids . . .
Thanks for stopping by Twenty by Jenny, Lori!