EVERYONE HAS SECRET WORLDS inside their heads, but Katie Cook, the talented and eminently watchable host of CMT Insider, is about to let us into a few of hers with the release this fall of the first in her series of children’s books, Little Big Benny: The Boy Who Didn’t Know He Was the Universe. Aimed at young readers, it tells the story of cool, science-loving kid Benny and his friends, the tiny unseen universes that exist around him unknown, and a couple of aliens who’re here to observe it all—all with fun and plenty of comedy.
I meet Cook in East Nashville on a Monday—that’s important because half of that part of town is closed on Mondays—but we manage to find solace from the blazing heat inside Calypso Café, where we eat and discuss her lifelong love of children’s books that celebrate hidden worlds.
The last time we met, a couple of years ago, I was doing a story on the kitchen renovation in her charming East-side home, so we first get all the updates out of the way, as I tell her about my wedding and she shares the latest on talented husband Marc and 6-yearold daughter Daisy Rocket (one whip-smart little kid). Then we get down to business, which in this case is books—not what I was expecting to hear, but the minute she starts talking, I’m excited. I am fairly sure we read all the same books as children.
Cook began creating Benny and his friends back in 2000, when she was still touring with her band Reno (they put out an album with Curb Records). “I had my first real laptop at the time and was itching to write something. I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, something that would open kids’ minds to the idea that everything is not what it looks like on the surface.
The influences of her childhood and adolescence clearly played into the vision she eventually created—Jim Henson’s Muppets, the rabbits of Watership Down, the wonderful nerdy comedy of Gary Larson’s Far Side, and books like the Borrowers series and Roald Dahl’s marvelous James and the Giant Peach—“Things that were cosmic, humorous and mindopening,” she says. “And that suggested there might be little worlds all around us.” She firmly believes in karma, in the reality of cause and effect, and through her characters, that too can be brought to the forefront. As part of the generation that grew up with Star Wars, aliens too are second nature.
In her mind, Benny’s worlds, developed organically: “What if there was a little boy who played host to all these other worlds, and nobody knew it, not even him?” Benny’s body plays host to a variety of microscopic universes, all affected by his actions: In his belly button live the happy lint-based Floofs of Lintopolis (the source of “butterflies” in his stomach). They join the Beats of Hipville, the Zuzus of Jammaland (between our hero’s toes) and the Joymen in Lightville (Benny’s heart), along with a host of fun protagonists. On the outside are two space aliens, the Zetas, monitoring the planet Earth and getting into trouble as they study Benny.
Kids reading the first three books had no trouble following the layered worlds, from Benny’s school to Lintopolis—and loved it all. They respond to everything from Benny’s fledgling romance with smart, cute Lora Lee to his issues with bully Leo, to the goofiness of the aliens Zoogle and Zagne. ~The storylines and plot will doubtless serve to get kids interested in science, but they’re also pretty delightful. Cook hopes they catch on. The first series of three books (and e-books) are available this fall, with more coming. Look for signings at local bookstores. LittleBigBenny.com. Little Big Benny, Young Readers ages 7 and Up.
from Nashville Lifestyles | September 2012