For the first time I was introduced to Katie Cook and her creation Benny. I knew right away that I had to take Benny home to my son. My son is twelve years old and has autism. There are not many books out there that can grab my son’s attention or keep it for that matter. I knew that Benny’s story and the vivid illustrations would be a winner at our house! Read more below about author Katie Cook, her Benny, and how you can bring Benny home to your “universe”.
This is the story of a boy who didn’t know he was the universe. Benny Armstrong Jr. is very curious about the world around him, but what he doesn’t realize is that he plays host to an incredible world that exists within him. It’s a world full of colorful characters like The Floofs of Lintopolis, The Beats of Hipville, the Joymen of Lightville, The Buds of TasteTown, and the Zuzus of Jamaland. They are no more aware of him than he is of them, but they have a profound effect on one another.
His every move is monitored by aliens called Zetas that like to wreak havoc in Little Benny’s world. Between the school bully, Leo, and the girl of Little Benny’s dreams, Lora Lee, The Zetas never run out of scenarios to cause upheaval in Little Benny’s world. Nothing is quite what it seems!
Benny Armstrong Jr., is still hoping to make a move on his crush, Lora Lee, but the next door neighbor and school bully, Leo, is as determined as ever to get in the way. Will Leo’s jealousy get him sent away to Castle Hill, and are the boys fighting over a girl that isn’t even interested in either one of them? The alien Zetas are still up to no good as they turn Leo and Little Benny against one another, but their antics threaten to expose their existance to the human race. All these ups and downs are taking their toll on the microscopic worlds within Little Benny, including the Floofs of Lintopolis, the Beats of Hipville, and the Zuzus of Jamaland. Will they turn on one another?
Benny Armstrong Jr. has had enough of Leo Grainger’s bullying. Luckily, his best friend, Harmony, proves what a great friend he is and has Little Benny’s back throughout the ups and downs. The alien Zetas are causing as much trouble as usual in their desperate attempt to be sent home. Lora Lee is finally ready to admit how she feels about Little Benny, but a massive misunderstanding threatens to derail it all. The Zuzus of Jamaland are hunting down the great Floof explorer, Fuzzpoleon, who is hiding out in Hipville with the Beats. Lightville is experiencing eratic ups and downs with the great Lord JoyRah’s emotions, and it threatens to keep the Blood Brothers of Coronary Heights at home. Pooshy’s computer, Chipper, is retiring, and Commander Nando and his troops face the biggest challenge of their lives, thanks to a tiny feathery fairy that is causing a wicked itch.
Katie Cook adds another string to her bow. Musician, CMT/MTV television host, circus performer, mother, and now author.
Before her television career started in 2001, her band Reno released an album with Curb Records. Promoting the album took her on the road for long stretches of time. These often boring road trips mixed with Katie’s wild imagination was Little Big Benny’s genesis. It started with the idea that while we may be small in the grand cosmic scheme of things, we also have a universe within as well, which makes us absolutely giant at the same time. Katie dreamed of creating a character that could explore ideas like this while maintaining a sense humor, like the children’s entertainment she grew up with offered. When Katie became a mother herself, she knew it was time to take this half baked idea and develop into a full fledged children’s book series. Like Big Benny always tells his son, “Gotta shoot for the stars!” While Katie interviews the stars for her job as host of CMT Hot 20 Countdown, she is also shooting for the stars with her Little Big Benny book series. She hopes one day to see it animated.
SOURCE: Hope To Read
(CSC) 1. So instead of being the interviewer this time you’re now the interviewee! What’s going on with you lately?
Yeah which I’m not always very good at, (Laughs) but pretty much what is going on with me all the time is just being a mother to my little one Daisy Rocket, she’s three years old so that’s the most constant busy work in my life. I’m also staying busy with CMT shooting Insider every week and trying to get up to date with all this new technology like Twitter and Facebook; just trying to figure all that stuff out. (Laughs) It has been a very fun year so far!! You can find me on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/TheKatieCook!!
(CSC) 2. You were born in London and moved to Nashville at a young age. After high school you returned to London and then headed back to Nashville to be in a country music duo. What was that entire experience like for you?
Because most of my family is in England, I always feel like I need to go back there to experience that, yet every time I have been over there I ended up missing Nashville so much. It took me a few times back and forth to realize I am just happier when I’m in Nashville. I can really relate to the people here in Nashville and I really love the music, and that was always something I missed when I was away from it. I think that the quality of the musicianship and the songwriters here are not rivaled anywhere else in the world and I wanted to be back in that atmosphere. I think musically, for a long time, I wasn’t really sure if I fit in as a songwriter and singer myself in Nashville because I’ve never been totally mainstream. I think that was why I kept going back to England and trying my music over there and yet it was too country sounding, so there was a lot of experimentation for me with that but I ended up making the wise decision to come back and settle in Nashville and I haven’t looked back since.
Do you get to visit there often still?
Yeah I actually just came back from there but my family is in Bristol, which is about two hours west of London. Lately when I’ve been over there I have a very limited time as to when I can be away from CMT so sometimes I don’t even go to London, I just spend time with my family and catch up with them. I am still a little jetlagged from this last trip. (Laughs)
(CSC) 3. Being a songwriter, how have you used your writing talents through the years in the music community of Nashville?
Well to answer the latter one first, since my daughter was born, I hate to say this but I’ve written very little which makes me really sad. I was writing so much and I think I had a little bit of a burnout stage at that time because I had a deal with Curb Records and we couldn’t agree on the material for it. My solo record and tape recordings never managed to come out, and then I had Daisy and I just sort of hit a wall where I needed to take a break and reassess my involvement in the music industry. Because I work in it so heavily with CMT, sometimes I just come home at the end of the day and I don’t have a lot of energy left for any of my own career. I’ve spent all day studying other people’s careers, talking about their careers; it really took the steam out of my desire a little bit to be an artist myself. In a way that has been kind of bittersweet because I do miss performing and I still intend to make a solo record. I still want to write songs but I think I’ve just seen the other side of the industry so much in the last few years that I know how much work it takes to be a Taylor Swift or a Carrie Underwood. I just don’t know if there are enough hours in the day for me anymore to even begin to put that kind of energy into something like that. I’m okay with that and I think from now on writing and singing for me is going to be something I do truly because I love it. If someone else likes it and they buy it that’s fantastic, but I think my years of wanting to put all my effort into being an artist myself is just behind me now.
I think you’d have a lot to write about since having your first child.
Yeah I know I think all I would write now is a bunch of sappy songs. (Laughs) I don’t think people would want to listen to that.
I think they would!
(CSC) 4. What are some the accomplishments that you’re most proud of from the time that you were signed to Curb Records with your band Reno?
We got to tour all around America. We actually were on a tour opening for a band called “Eiffel 65,” that was very much a dance/pop band. It was a very, very bizarre pairing. They had a big dance hit called “I’m Blue,” that was a really bad techno/dance hit. I don’t know why, but we got put on the same tour together. I have such fond memories when I look back on that time, just playing in clubs night after night and being able to see the country in a van were some really good times. I had never really done that before. We would start off our day at a radio station doing interviews, go to sound check, go to another radio station, play our show and then do a meet & greet. I got to really be able to live that life kind of for a little while and I’m so glad I did it. I don’t think I ever would have been satisfied if I didn’t know what that was like. All of that was a big deal for me. During that time that we were in England we got to be on “The Pepsi Chart Show,” which is sort of like a “Top of The Pops” show that is over there and we got to sing live. I am so glad that I have that experience because I think I would still be yearning for it so much if I hadn’t done a couple of those things. My time in Reno is actually a very, very positive memory and I’m sad that we broke up, but I was glad that we got to do the things that we were able to do. We never had a hit but I think we were just about to maybe break the Top 40 at point when I look back but it was enough to get out there and play and know that I loved being on the stage singing live; it was a GREAT experience!!
(CSC) 5. What have you learned from your father Roger Cook about the music business?
Wow!! To treat people kindly, that’s probably not what you would think I’d say but I think artistically he’s always just let me have my own say. He would never say, “You should change this in a song, or make that different.” He totally artistically let’s me be myself. I think he’s a really good example of being kind to people and giving people a chance. If he thinks somebody’s a good writer, it will never matter if they’ve had a big hit or not, he’ll always take the time to write with someone he thinks is talented. That really means a lot to young, new writers that are coming to town that get to write with a hit songwriter like that. He always knows where the next talent could be hidden in the guy who’s delivering your mail. He’s never been snobby about his place in the music business at all and I think that’s a great example to follow!
Does he reside in Tennessee full-time, or does he live between the UK and Tennessee?
He goes to England a lot but he does have a house here in Franklin, Tennessee that is about thirty minutes south of Nashville. Franklin is a really pretty area and a lot of the entertainers live there because it is a little bit quieter than Nashville but Nashville is a very quiet city anyhow. He writes about five days a week, plays golf about three days a week, and then writes the other two or three. (Laughs) So he is still writing all the time and I’m really proud of him. He will tell you, “I’m going to die with a pen in my hand, I will be writing a song when I finally keel over.” Basically, he’s never going to stop!!
(CSC) 6. Growing up as a young girl did your father ever expose you to the other artists that he was working with in your home/recording studio?
A little bit. The thing about my dad is he would never make a big deal of people. We might have had somebody hanging around at the house and I wouldn’t even really know who they were until years later. I always tell the story that I was in a record store one time as a teenage flipping through the albums probably looking for one of the records from The Pretenders and I came across a John Prine record and I thought, “Oh my gosh John Prine’s made a record!!” So I called my dad and I was like, “Your friend John made a record” and he told me, “Well that’s what he does” and I replied, “Really?!?” (Laughs) I mean I didn’t know I just knew that he’s the guy who comes over and watches football with my dad. My dad doesn’t really always talk about his friends and their accomplishments because when they’re hanging out; they’re just hanging out and having a good time together. Even when my dad has had hits and achievements through the years from his career he never had copies of the records around the house, he didn’t put any of his awards on the wall, so I really have to get older to figure out half of who my dad’s friends were if that makes any sense. One thing that always stands out to me was my dad’s Christmas party. He would always have a Christmas party for his publishing company and Crystal Gayle went to it a couple of years in a row. I remember as a little girl seeing Crystal Gayle up close and touching that long hair. (Laughs) I was just so mesmerized and infatuated with her. She’s just so beautiful and a really wonderful person to be around!!
(CSC) 7. Its interesting because you don’t really sound like you have an English accent or a southern accent. How does that work out for you?
I am the only one in my entire family that has an American accent. That might be why it didn’t become more southern because I’m already the oddity in my family. (Laughs) When I go back to England they are all tell me, “Oh you sound like a southern belle” and I said to them, “No I really don’t.” (Laughs) Then there are some people from down here that say to me, “Well then you must be from somewhere else.” I think I just have a complete lack of an accent probably.
(CSC) 8. How did you initially discover the opportunity to work with CMT and what can you recall from your audition?
It was the last thing in the world that I thought I was going to do, I had worked on and off as a hair stylist while I was trying to get my music career off the ground so I knew a lot of other hair stylists around town. When my band Reno broke up I was just in limbo trying to figure out what to do next. I decided to put together a group so I could just pursue a solo career, and I was still on Curb but I needed to pay the bills. I called a hairdresser friend of mine and I said, “Look I don’t really want to get back into doing hair, I don’t think I can commit to it but I have to pay my mortgage, so can I literally come sweep hair, wash hair, make the appointments, and just assist you?” She agreed to it and so I started doing that for awhile.
One day I heard one of the hairdressers say that they had heard that CMT was looking for a host and they wanted to audition, I knew someone at CMT so I told them that I would put in a call to see if I could get them an audition. While I was on the phone with them they told me, “Well you know they’re looking for a woman as well, you might want to come out and give it a shot” and I was like “Noooo way!! I’m a singer; I don’t know anything about hosting television.” They told me that they would like someone that was kind of in the music business, so I might be good for it actually and that I could meet Dolly Parton!! So I told them, “Okay, Okay I’ll give it a shot.” (Laughs)
The first audition I went to I had flaming red hair and they told me that they liked me but they didn’t like my look. That was when I thought it would be a really good job and so my husband talked me into dying my hair blonde. I went and got a head shot to bring to my second callback, and then I got a third call back. It actually boiled down to about ten of us and that was when I thought to myself, “Okay I really need to take this seriously.” I was nervous but I just thought, “All these other people have host and TV experience but I know I have music experience, that’s the one thing I’ve got and I’m just going to have to make that my angle.” I knew a lot about the artists and I even knew many of them pretty well from living in Nashville. I believe that at the end of the day, that really helped me get the job. They talked to us about our lives and who we were, and I hope that that gave me an edge but I’m not really sure I know. (Laughs)
They called me one day and I was literally sweeping up some hair at the hair salon and they told me that I had the job!! I was very shocked when they told me that but yet it felt kind of natural because it was another music related thing. I had bounced around from the publishing deal to singing back up for people and just pretty much sprinkled myself all over the industry, and then in a funny way it felt natural to try this side of it.
(CSC) 9. Out of all the interviews that you’ve done, which are a few of your most cherished?
Well Dolly of course; Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!! (Laughs) I’m extremely thankful to Kenny Chesney for all of the times that he’s given us his time and been very open. He’s a very private person but he’s been willing to go a little deeper with me on some of his interviews than he does with other people and I’ve been very grateful for that. Taylor Swift is just precious!! I just adore her; she’s been a lot of fun to talk with. Sometimes it’s really fun when my job gives me an interview completely outside of country music because it’s just so random and interesting. Interviewing Orlando Bloom was kind of neat and the lovely Susan Sarandon!! I am very lucky that I work in the country music field because there are very few interviews that I walk away from and think to myself, “Oh that was kind of disappointing.” People by in large in the country industry are nice, they’re normal, they are down to earth, easy to talk to and that makes my job a lot easier.
(CSC) 10. What are some of the challenges that you face as the television host of CMT Insider?
By the time that Insider had started I was already getting used to being more of a host, but when I first started with CMT we were doing live work five or six days a week because I was hosting CMT’s “Most Wanted Live” with Greg Martin and then Cledus T. Judd while I was also hosting “Grand Ole Opry” live on the weekends. You have to remember, I did not come from a journalism or TV background. While I was very comfortable talking to the artists and talking about their music, I didn’t necessarily know how to read a prompter or take cues in my ear and follow a stage manager and all of that. There was a lot to learn in a very short amount of time and there were good days and bad days like any other job when you start it. It was definitely a learning curve and there were quite a few tears that were shed behind the scenes, and it was a real challenge. They’ve stuck with me, I’ve stuck with them and we eventually got me there I think. It was not easy in the beginning; we’ll just put it that way! I was definitely thrown into a world where I could have used some more training for sure.
(CSC) 11. What goes into planning and producing an episode of the show? (The process from A-Z)
There is a lot!! There’s a whole team of people. You’ve got researchers constantly looking for the stories, people fielding all the calls from the PR people, the managers, and the labels. We’re constantly sending producers out into the field to find stories. There are so many stories that happen in one week that I can’t possibly be at every story. There is something happening every day pretty much so we have people that are out there all over the place. (Laughs) That requires an audio person and a video person, and there is always a constant team working together on that. We shoot Insider on a Thursday and it airs on the weekend, so we basically have Friday to get it all together to figure out if there is going to be any last minute stories that we can incorporate into the program. By the time it goes on the air, we want to know if anything that came through at the last minute, we were able to get that on the show. I am always on standby right up until Friday night just in case any new stories happen to come in during that time before the show airs. Even if I’m at the grocery store or something I’m constantly looking at my cell phone to see if there are any texts coming through or any new stories. If there are, then I have to race home and do my voiceovers. (Laughs) The beginning of the week starts out with us gathering information and by the end of the week it’s like everybody is putting in a twelve hour day trying to pull the show together. The show airs Saturday and Sunday. It is nice because it gives us that one extra day that if we want to edit the show and double check all of our facts, we can do that and hopefully get some last minute stories, which there usually are a few. (Laughs)
(CSC) 12. Have you ever had the opportunity to conduct a sit down interview with Shania Twain, and if so what was that like?!?
Yes I actually went to Switzerland and did a whole special about her life there and her new album coming out at the time (Up!), and that was pretty, pretty great!! That was definitely a highlight of mine working for CMT. Then I did a big sit down interview with her in London when she did her “I’m Gonna Getcha Good” video; we were on the set!! She’s been extremely good to us too; she’s really let us into her world a few times. She is another very private person and we’ve been very fortunate to have great access to Shania. I’m really hoping obviously to get to talk to her again soon about her “reemergence.” I think what’s going on in her life now is really exciting and I think it’s probably going to be some of the best music she’s ever done; that is about to come out of her. So I hope to talk to her again soon, (Laughs) we’ll see. I have no doubt that she’s writing in fact she has more or less said the she is gathering all of her emotions and putting them in to music. As far as any kind of release date I definitely don’t know about that. If I know Shania she’ll just take her time and nothing will come out before she’s absolutely ready. Let’s face it; she has to reconfigure her whole recording setup. She wrote and recorded with her husband and that’s all going to be changing now so she’s probably in the process of figuring out who to work with. It is so nice to see her smiling again and she looks great!! I’m really, really happy for her.
(CSC) 13. Do you create the questions for your interviews yourself and if so what inspires you to build an interview?
Well it’s very much a team effort because like I said there’s a whole crew of people that work at Insider, so there are people that do the basic groundwork and the research because sometimes we have to clear things again with managers, the labels and the PR people. So I have people help me build the basics of all that to start with. Then I begin to personalize things because it’s really important to me, even if a label wants me to ask a question, I’ve got to figure out why I would really want to ask it; it has to seem genuine. I start working on all of that myself and we sort of bounce it back and forth so that everyone is pretty happy with it. Once I sit down with the artist usually a bunch of stuff pops out that is off the cuff anyway. (Laughs) It is important to go into these interviews with a basic understanding of the artist and myself that we all know what we’re there to accomplish. I don’t mind letting other people be involved in the groundwork, but then I take over after that.
(CSC) 14. What’s the first big news story that you can fully take credit for breaking from your time at CMT?
Wow that is a really great question!! I would probably need a lot more time to think about that; I really don’t know. We tend to shy away from very gossipy things; it’s just not really our style. We have such a nice relationship with the artists, even thought if something major is going on like LeAnn and Eddie, obviously it’s our job to report on it but we don’t necessarily break that kind of news. It’s just not what people expect I think from CMT. That is why I kind of hesitate to answer that question because there’s so many times when we get the story and then there’s a big conference where we’re saying, “Do we really want to break that?” or “Do we really want to be dishing dirt on these people?” The country industry is pretty respectful, I think the fans respect the artists, and the artists respect the fans. There are times when we get an exclusive on something and all the other news channels will pounce on it. We do feed our clips out thought because a lot of the times we are the first to talk to somebody. For instance, when we talked to Justin Timberlake about his interview with Reba, either E! News or Entertainment Tonight immediately asked us if they could have the story. Also, because we’re not live five nights a week, we’re on the weekends, and very often we’ll get the news before anybody else but the show airs on Saturday so by then other people already have wind of the story. As far as the very first one (news story), I’m not sure I could think of that right now.
(CSC) 15. When can readers expect to see your children’s book “Little Big Benny” released, and do you have plans to do a book signing tour with it?
I have had it with a bunch of children. I’ve had a lot of different kids reading it because I really wanted to get a sense of what age group it was appropriate for. It’s fully edited, we’ve got the cover art done, and I actually just had a meeting this morning about getting it out to my literary agent. We are going to start shopping for publishers next. If I don’t score a major publishing deal with it I’m going to put it out myself. I am very determined to put it out there in the world. I think within the next year I should have something to show, and I’m going to get out here and talk to people about it. It has been more fun that anything I have ever done. I definitely have plans to do a book signing tour and I am really looking forward to getting out there and meeting people on it!!
(CSC) 16. Lastly, are there any intriguing qualities/talents about yourself that you’d like to share with our readers?
(Laughs) I’m OBSSESSED with Ufology; it is my biggest interest outside of music. I don’t really think that’s terribly unusual but a lot of other people tend to think it is. That would be the first thing that would pop into my mind. I devour books about UFO’s; go to conferences about them and lectures. I would LOVE to host a paranormal show and I’ve actually talked to a few different people about that. That is probably something that most people don’t know about me. (Laughs) You know my dad took me to see Close Encounters when I was a little kid and then it was all over.
SOURCE: Christian CSC | Country Stars Central
Katie Cook is best-known as the media personality from Country Music Television (CMT), but what people may not know about her is that she is also a published children’s author, who has penned the “Little Big Benny” books.
Her third book in the “Little Big Benny series” is entitled “The Wicked Itch.” “Just like the first two books, we follow Little Benny’s daily life and the lives of all the many characters that live within him on a microscopic level. Benny still has strong feelings for Lora Lee, and by the third book, it is firmly established that she feels the same way; however, young love is never easy. Benny’s neighbor, who happens to be the class bully, is Leo Grainger. Leo and Benny are still at odds over Lora Lee, but in this book, we start to see Leo pay for some of his actions. They say what goes around comes around, and in Leo’s case it is coming like a freight train,” Katie shared.
She continued, “There has been a great deal of drama in the worlds within Benny too. He continues to have a great effect on them, and vise versa, but as before they are all still completely unaware of each other’s existence. The growing tension has them ready to turn on one another, but we start to see that there has been many a misunderstanding. We can’t judge a book by its cover, and this theme reveals itself more and more by the end of The Wicked Itch.”
On the evolution of the character of Benny throughout the series, Katie remarked, “Little Benny has had many challenges from day one between dodging Leo to admitting his feelings to Lora Lee. While he has set-backs along the way, we are seeing him develop into a more confident boy by the end of ‘The Wicked Itch.’ He is often his own worst enemy and still has many lessons to learn, but with his parent’s guidance and the incredible loyalty shown by his best friend, Harmony, he is on track to grow into a fine young man. The other characters that live within Little Benny develop along the way too. Even Pooshy and Tufty, the Floof brother and sister in Lintopolis who can find anything to argue about, are learning more about each other and coming to a place of compassion and understanding. We find out by the third book, the Zuzus from Jamaland have been greatly misunderstood and that even the Waxmen aren’t as bad as they seem. There might not be much hope for the Zetas, Zoogle and Zagne, though. These aliens sent to Earth to monitor Benny are still up to no good, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.”
Although it is extremely difficult for Katie to select a favorite book from the series since they are all her “babies,” she does love the first book “The Boy Who Didn’t Know He Was the Universe,” since it introduces all the characters and how they are all linked to one another. “It was a huge challenge to write and it was very satisfying to see it come together. ‘The Wicked Itch’ might be my favorite because of the plot twists and turns. It's nice to see Leo get a taste of his own medicine, but I won't say too much for anyone who hasn't read it yet. My hope is that all the books stand alone as good stories in their own right, but as a whole make one great ride.”
On her future plans for “Little Big Benny,” she shared, “I am currently in talks with a literary agent and would like to pursue a publishing deal that can help me get ‘Little Big Benny’ into larger markets. I have had so much fun putting the books out myself, but it would be wonderful to see it in the hands of even more kids. Ultimately, my goal is to see ‘Little Big Benny’ animated and on the big screen. It’s a very visual story to me, and I would love to see these characters really come to life that way.”
Particularly impressive about Katie Cook is that she created a Twitter account for “Little Big Benny” where the animated literary character can interact with his fans and reading audience. “Benny enjoys chatting to people and sharing his astronomical musings. There is a rumor going around though that Leo is thinking of getting a Twitter account just to mess with Benny. This could get very interesting,” she said.
“I really enjoy getting feedback from readers,” Katie concluded. “If they enjoy the books, I hope they will consider recommending them to a friend. ‘Benny’ and I would both appreciate it.”
SOURCE: Digital Journal
This video is almost 15 years old, hard to believe! This is my old band Reno with Tony Wade on guitar and my brother Jason Cook on drums. We were signed to Curb Records and this was our first single. It stars lots of our friends and some of Nashville's finest artists. This is obviously before my CMT days. I don't think CMT would dig the yellow hair, blue eyeshadow, and nose ring, ha ha. I kinda miss my crazy old look though. Hope you enjoy!