Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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Interview with Children’s Author Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Bennett Hopkins is recognized as “the world’s most prolific anthologist of poetry for children” by Guinness World Records. He has received the Christopher Award for his BEEN TO YESTERDAYS: POEMS OF A LIFE (Boyds Mills Press/Wordsong). Among many other honors include the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, the Regina Medal, and induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

For what age audience do you write?

I write for all ages. I have written professional books, picture books, novels, poetry, and have compiled over 120 anthologies, including the first I CAN READ POETRY BOOK, SURPRISES (HarperCollins).

Henry: Wow!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, WORLD MAKE WAY is a collection of especially-commissioned poetry, all inspired by art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere, and the world’s most encyclopedic art museum. I was thrilled when I was approached by Abrams Books for Young Readers to engage in this project.

Henry: Who wouldn’t be thrilled?

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

Looking at artwork by such masters as Mary Cassatt, Fernando Botero, Winslow Homer, and the contemporary work of Kerry James Marshall, and reading poems written from hearts of America’s greatest poets writing today including Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Carole Boston Weatherford, brings together an aesthetic experience for readers of all ages to appreciate. It is of utmost importance we bring the arts into children’s lives.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Writing of any kind is challenging. Poetry, in particular, is among the most difficult genre, being able to create brief stories with limited words that must fall in place like chords in a symphony. Not only does each word count, each syllable must be thought out.

Henry: Yes. I jokingly send novice rhyming picture book writers to http://www.dontdorhyme.com.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Reaching children to bring books into their lives is not only a powerful lesson, but a powerful responsibility. Reading is powerful. It can change minds, hearts, and generations of being.

Henry: True. “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

My life has been blessed with so many memorable experiences. To reach the age of 80 and have a book such as WORLD MAKE WAY appear is like an out-of-body experience. To be in the Met! To bring poets’ words into the Met! To pair their work with artistic masterpieces. It is as Julie Fogliano writes in “Cat Watching Spider” based on a work by Oide Toko, ‘…all prowl and prance/and teeth and claws”. Centuries after art was produced poets are writing about the artist’s work. What a tribute to our culture.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read. It will help you find your own voice.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

A favorite quote of mine comes from Langston Hughes’s poem “Dreams: Hold fast to dreams…”. I truly believe if we do hold fast, dreams will come true. Thanks, Lang, for your insight.

Henry: On a first-name basis, are we? Impressive.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

Not really. I am very intense at whatever I’m writing.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

To bring peace to the world, to have each and every person treated with respect and dignity, to be a world of one.

Henry: You have my vote.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg. We could possibly change the world before dessert.

Henry: I would happily cook that dinner for you.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Shop! And shop I do.

Henry: Like a boss.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

R.I.P. – He Rests In Poetry.

Henry: Well played, sir.

Where can readers find your work?

See my site at http://www.leebennetthopkins.com

Henry: Thank you for spending time with us!


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Interview with author/illustrator Lisa Desimini

Lisa Desimini grew up reading and drawing every chance she got. Her friends and fellow students told her that she should be an artist when she grew up, and Lisa agreed. She graduated from The School of Visual Arts in NYC. Now, she has written and/or illustrated over 35 books for children. She has also illustrated many book jackets for YA and adults novels.

For what age audience do you write​/illustrate​, and in what genre(s)?

My children’s books are for children ages 3-7. Some of my books are for all ages. My favorite genre is fantasy, but I’ve published non-fiction, too. I adore illustrating poetry collections.

Henry: I met Lisa at a book event at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, where she was signing her new picture book. I was especially surprised and pleased to learn she also illustrated the covers for the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) paranormal fantasy novels!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is THE FLEATASTICS. It’s about an acrobatic troupe of fleas that travel from sleeping dog to sleeping dog to put on a show. Sarafleana’s family wants her to be part of their parasite pyramid, but she dreams of having her own act. When someone in the audience says the forbidden “T” word…Sarafleana gets a chance to prove what she can do.

Henry: My agent is right now shopping a narrative nonfiction picture book told by and about fleas. Fascinating little dudes.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

There are two messages in this book. First, it’s important to do what it takes to follow ones dreams. The second message is that no matter what knocks us down, we have to get back up, brush ourselves off and get back on the horse… But I usually don’t set out with a mission for my books to have a message. It just happens sometimes.

Henry: If you’re a flea, you brush yourself off and get back on the cat.

What aspect of writing​ or illustrating​ do you find most challenging?

For me, writing is more challenging. I write something and, at first, I love it. Then I kind of like it, then I’m not sure about it at all, so I put it away for a few days. When I look again, I say, “OK, this has potential!” Then I show a friend and they make me see something I could do to make it better, so I do it and I like it better. Rinse and repeat and then maybe I send it to my editor and maybe it gets published. I don’t have as much back and forth when it comes to illustration because I’ve been making pictures since I was a little kid.

Henry: I certainly agree that critique groups (the external opinion) is absolutely vital to good writing.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer​/illustrator​?

The powerful lesson I’ve learned is the more research the better! Nowadays, the internet makes it easier to find books, gather information, and see images from different regions. When I was younger I illustrated a book about the Navaho and I thought I did a good job in recreating their hogans, but I got a very sweet letter from the tribe saying they weren’t accurate. I felt terrible. More recently, when I illustrated, SHE SANG PROMISE about a Seminole woman named Betty Mae Jumper, I was thrilled that National Geographic sent my images to the Seminole museum to be approved.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer​/illustrator​?

The memorable experiences for me are when I do a drawing at the end of all my school visits. They’re not preplanned. I use the students’ ideas, and they never cease to amaze me. When their creativity is lit up, there is an exuberant energy in the room. They might call out instead of raising their hands, bounce around, and get a bit loud, but it’s all worth it to me because when creativity is unleashed, it’s wild. It’s not always about being perfectly behaved.

Henry: I also call out instead of raising my hand.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors​ or illustrators​?

I would tell aspiring authors and illustrators to read as much as you can. Go to the library or bookstore every week–read classics and the latest books. Take a class and join the SCBWI. If kid’s books are truly your passion, you will have the energy and desire to follow the ideas that come to you. Some of my ideas have flowed quickly, but most of my books have taken years to come together and sell.

Henry: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has been helpful to many a career. Their website is http://www.scbwi.org.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

My favorite quote: “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Henry: I also like “Whether you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write​/illustrate​?

I like to clean up and organize before I start working on a new project. Then I read a bunch of favorite books. Even if they’re not related to my new project, they get me excited and revved up about stories and the infinite worlds they create.

Henry: Is that preparation or procrastination? 🙂

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

My superpower would be the ability to teleport myself–anytime and anywhere.

Henry: I love it. No time wasted commuting or in traffic. No greenhouse gas emissions.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Is it OK if I answer a slightly different question–a dinner with my favorite characters from books instead of authors? I love authors, but Owen Meany, Harry Potter and Pippi Longstocking popped into my mind!! Owen because he is so dearly earnest, Harry because of his bravery, and Pippi because of her adventurous spirit!

Henry: No, it is not OK. This interview is cancelled! Per Wikipedia:

A Prayer for Owen Meany is the seventh novel by American writer John Irving. Published in 1989, it tells the story of John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany growing up together in a small New Hampshire town during the 1950s and 1960s. According to John’s narration, Owen is a remarkable boy in many ways; he believes himself to be God’s instrument and sets out to fulfill the fate he has prophesied for himself.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

My favorite creature is a centaur. I like that they have the intellect of a human and an animal’s wild nature.

Henry: I like them too. One is featured on the cover of my first book.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing​/illustrating​?

When I’m not writing, I like to be with my husband and our kitty Crash, cook, read, watch movies, be in the garden and do yoga.

Henry: But not all at the same time…Yoga cooking!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I plan on being cremated and turned into a tree, so my treestone would say, “She always tried to be better and do better.”

Henry: I’m going to go out on a limb and say the root of that choice is that one must be thick-skinned to be an author.

Where can readers find your work?

You can find my work in bookstores, libraries and on my website: http://www.lisadesimini.com

Henry: Thank you for spending time with us, Lisa!

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At the 2018 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival

I had a wonderful time at the 2018 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival. I presented “Using Fiction to Interest Young Readers in Nonfiction”, and got to meet some amazing authors.

With literary agency sister Erin Dealey, author of K IS FOR KINDERGARTEN.

With Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of BOYS OF STEEL.

With Janay Brown, author of IMANI’S MOON.

With Karen Jameson, author of the upcoming MOON BABIES, and Dianne White, author of BLUE ON BLUE.

With Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt, author of MAYBE A FOX.

With Coretta Scott King Medalist illustrator James Ransome and his equally talented wife author Lesa Cline-Ransome.

Closing session speaker Georgia Heard presented “Seeing the World with a Poet’s Eye.” I loved the following slide that said poets…

  • Observe the small moments around us
  • Find poetry in the ordinary
  • See beauty in the ugly
  • Are curious and filled with wonder
  • Look at the world in a new way
  • Pay attention to and write from all our feelings
  • Love the meaning the sounds of words
  • Give voice to the unspeakable
  • Are empathetic


Interview with author/illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton

Vanessa Brantley Newton was born during the Civil Rights movement, and attended school in Newark, NJ. Being part of a diverse, tight-knit community during such turbulent times, Vanessa learned the importance of acceptance and empowerment in shaping a young person’s life. When she read SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats, it was the first time she saw herself in a children’s book. It was a defining moment in her life, and has made her into the artist she is today. As an illustrator, she includes children of all ethnic backgrounds in her stories and artwork. She wants all children to see their unique experiences reflected in the books they read, so they can feel the same sense of empowerment and recognition she experienced as a young reader.

For what age audience do you write?

I create for ages 3-8 for picture books and then 8-12 for middle grade.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is happily called, GRANDMA’S PURSE, written and illustrated by me. It’s been a while. The book is with Random House Publishing and due out in Jan 2018. All about a little girl who finds goodies in her grandmothers purse.

Henry: Grandmas are also known for hiding tissues in their sleeves.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

Simply the love and relationship of grandchild and grandparent, and that we can find out a lot about a person from what they carry with them.

Henry: So true!

What aspect of illustrating and writing do you find most challenging?

It’s always been the sketching for me. Layout out a book is so very frustrating to me. Each time feels like the first, and I approach each book like it’s the first one. Yeah I know I’ve done it a couple of times, LOL!! I really don’t know why, but it’s a little difficult to wrap my head around it. I think that I over-think it too much, and the need to please OTHERS can really rattle me a bit.

As far as writing is concerned, I am dyslexic and it makes it really difficult to come to an empty page and fill it with words. I don’t spell very well and my vocab is very simple, if you will. Not a really deep one, LOL! I have my own way of expressing myself, and as a dyslexic person I have to do it in a way that makes sense to me first. I love to write poems and sing. Music helps me to tell my stories. I also learn through rhyme. Once I get something, it sticks and I am able to use it however I need. This is how most children with dyslexia learn. I really don’t consider myself a writer, but more of a storyteller.

Henry: And a hugger!

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

That we have to power to tell children stories that can uplift, scare, inspire, provoke empathy, cause them to see their beautiful selves, and to be creative — and that is a pretty power, but even more powerful, NEVER EVER LET ANYONE SPEAK FOR YOU!

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Just recently, a book that was pulled by Scholastic called, A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON. Honestly, one of the most painful experiences of my career in children’s books. No one ever wants to be censored or have their book pulled, but this is what happened, and while it was painful, there was so much that I learned from the experience. I found my own voice and my own stories. We often like to give our characters adversity, but we will have none of it in our own very real lives. The fact is, we love adversity and hard times and frustrations put on to our characters. It’s the stuff that good books are made of. But in order to give your character that kind of magic that makes your readers care and feel about the character, you have to sometimes experience your own trials and tribulations as well. How did you come through the very hard stuff? The whole debacle made me turn in and go really deep. While very painful, much like baring a child. Nobody likes the labor pains, but holding the child makes it worth the while, and that is what this book did for me. I doubt that people would have even heard of Vanessa Brantley-Newton if this didn’t take place. Truly what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger for the journey ahead. It’s time to get busy telling children of color and children period, a different type of story. Stories that give them life.

Henry: You persisted!

What advice would you offer aspiring authors and illustrators?

Hone your talent. Really be willing to stretch yourself and put yourself in a real teachable environment. Learn all that you can from watching other illustrators and reading other authors works – people that have made it. What do you love about their creative flow? Compile that information in a notebook or sketch book. Try adding it to your work. I never had the chance to meet Erza Jack Keats, but I was student of his wonderful work. I put it in front of me and tried to copy as much as I could without copying LOL! I studied his line and how he laid out his books. Still studying him today along with Mary Blair and Fiep Westendorp and a host of others. DO YOU! You bring something special to the creative table that nobody else brings! Stop comparing your beautiful self to other people! They can’t do what you do, and you can’t do what they do. We are looking to see what you are going to share with the world.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Thoughts become things, so get busy thinking right thoughts and watch what happens.”

Henry: Nice. I like the related: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

I don’t know if this is a really strange ritual, but seriously music and comedy in my office and lots of dancing heightens the frequency and creative flow. Every single day. Live, Love, Laugh!

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Oh this is one of my favorite questions ever!!!!! Okay I would like the power of Manifestation. The ability to make it so! To think about something and see it manifest before my eyes.

Henry: I’m gonna’ manifest myself some pizza and beer right now.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Langston Hughes because he makes me feel. Maya Angelo because she allows me to see me. Ezra Jack Keats because he’d cause me to do both.

Henry: But, I come in a close fourth, right? 🙂

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Venus because she was love and beauty.

Henry: Congratulations. You are the first author to answer that question with a goddess.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Sing Jazz and cook and laugh, laugh, laugh!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Here lies a woman who loved God and loved people and they all felt it.

Henry: Anyone who meets you feels it! 🙂

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?


Henry: Thanks for spending time with us. I had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa. She’s a hugger!

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Interview with Picture Book Author/Illustrator Karen Lechelt

Karen Lechelt is a writer, illustrator and artist. She was born in South Korea, raised in New Jersey and currently lives in San Francisco. Most of her stories have animals  wearing pants. Making books is something she finds impossible and impossibly wonderful. I had the opportunity to meet her at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books.

For what age audience do you write? 

Early readers (1-5), picture books

Tell us about your book. 

It’s about a young girl who while playing with her toys imagines asking them one simple question, WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOU? Their responses are sweet, silly and unique.

What DO YOU LOVE ABOUT that book? 

I hope readers and non-readers will begin to think about what it is they love about themselves…obvious I know, but that’s what I’m really hoping for.

Henry: Very nice.

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging? 

Finishing a story or an idea is difficult for me. Ideas can come to me rather quickly. But completing the idea and the ending is almost always a struggle for me. I’m not a tidy person, and find it impossible to come up with tidy endings.

Henry: I’m a very tidy person, and it’s still a challenge to come up with tidy endings.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator? 

To never give up on myself. After a hundred rejections and many moments of self doubt, ultimately it was MY voice (both verbal and graphic) that shined through the massive slush piles and landed me a wonderful publisher, agent and editor. I have to believe in myself otherwise no one else will.

Henry: Solid advice. That, and grow a thick skin!

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer? 

I’ve never been a fan of public speaking…actually I used to loathe it.  But since becoming a published author and presenting my book to over 500 students, children and adults, I’ve learned to enjoy the experience. And reading on the children’s stage at the LA Times Festival of Books is something I never expected to do and will NEVER forget. Also getting my picture taken with Jon Klassen AND Mac Barnett at LATFB was a huge treat for this fan.

Henry: I saw you there. Great job!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators? 

I’m too much of an imposter to give advice.  But if forced, maybe I’d say no matter what, just enjoy the artful journey of storytelling.

Henry: Good advice. The artistic road is hilly, so enjoy the high points.

Do you have any favorite quotes? 

Not really a quote, but a cartoon by Jack Ziegler. A man walks into a party and thinks to himself “Yipes! Grownups!”. That happens to me almost every day…not the party, just the feeling.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work? 

I don’t, but my dog does. He follows me to my desk, waits for me to turn around in my chair and say “I see you” and then jumps onto the small sofa. If I don’t acknowledge him, he stares through me until I’ve relented. Oh, and I do eat a lot of chocolate, but there’s nothing strange about that.

Henry: “Acknowledge me, hooman! One does not simply work without acknowledging me. It is folly.”

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? 

Having a 10 year old daughter, I have discussed this quite a bit. I would absolutely fly. I love traveling and eating.  So if I could fly I would wake up in the morning and eat bagels in NY, then fly to Paris for a ham baguette and croissant, then I’d go and eat Udon in Japan and end my day in Florence with waffles and gelato.  I’d be a very selfish superhero and happily very plump. If I couldn’t fly I’d maybe like to control the weather. I think I could do a lot of good if I could control the weather.

Henry: If you get too plump, it would affect your aerodynamics. Flying is a lot trickier than it first appears. I wrote a mock interview of Edna Mode, discussing the challenges of flying and other superpowers. 

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I would love to have Haruki Murakami over for dinner because he is my favorite all-time author. I would want to ask him about the inklings and cats and shadows in his books. I would also love to eat with Mary Blair, although technically she’s not an author, but illustrator.  She illustrated one of my all time favorite picture books, I CAN FLY.  Her color, style and creativity are unrivaled. And lastly I would have Charles Bukowski at the table, because I love his writing, but more importantly, I think he would be horribly fun. Either I’d love him or end up kicking him out.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers:
“Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer. His books and stories have been bestsellers in Japan as well as internationally, with his work being translated into 50 languages and selling millions of copies outside his native country. The critical acclaim for his fiction and non-fiction has led to numerous awards, in Japan and internationally, including the World Fantasy Award (2006) and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award (2006). His oeuvre received, for example, the Franz Kafka Prize (2006) and the Jerusalem Prize (2009). Murakami’s most notable works include A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), Norwegian Wood (1987), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994–95), Kafka on the Shore (2002), and 1Q84 (2009–10).

Mary Blair, born Mary Robinson, was an American artist who was prominent in producing art and animation for The Walt Disney Company, drawing concept art for such films as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South and Cinderella. Blair also created character designs for enduring attractions such as Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, the fiesta scene in El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, and an enormous mosaic inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Several of her illustrated children’s books from the 1950s remain in print, such as I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss. Blair was inducted into the prestigious group of Disney Legends in 1991.

Henry Charles Bukowski was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer. His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles. His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in the LA underground newspaper Open City. In 1986 Time called Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I like the cats in Murakami’s books because they are delegates from another world. When I read a Murakami story I may be entering a world that I actually feel like I belong to. I believe my dog, Mr. Jones, often tries to lead me down a rabbit hole.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Right now I’m really into painting…and chocolate.

Henry: Chocolate is becoming a theme here…

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Lived a long happy life.

Where can readers find your work?

Tell them to check their local library! And if they want to buy it they can go to their local book store, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and the like.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Karen.

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Fun Times at LA Times Festival of Books 2017

I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Here are photos from that event.

Always a good way to start an event…

I got to meet Karen Lechelt, debut picture book author/illustrator of WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOU? Bonus fact: she has a French Bulldog, so you know she’s cool.

John Rocco introduced me to graphic novelist and picture book illustrator Matt Phelan.

Then John hopped up on stage and worked his magic.

I wandered around the booths, and found the dynamic duo of Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett signing books.

In the audience of the Children’s Stage, I bumped into friend Salina Yoon, author/illustrator of PENGUIN AND PINECONE, and met Jean Reagan, author of HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA.

On stage, we were regaled by a duck hat-wearing David Shannon, author/illustrator of NO, DAVID!

Lee Wind moderated a graphic novel panel with Faith Erin Hicks, Matt Phelan, and Cecil Castellucci.

I wandered some more, and found James Burks, author/illustrator of BIRD & SQUIRREL, Amy Sarig King, author of ME AND MARVIN GARDENS, and Jarrett Krosoczka, author/illustrator of LUNCH LADY at the Once Upon a Storytime booth.

Author/illustrator Jon Klassen and author Mac Barnett read their picture books EXTRA YARN and TRIANGLE to us. Best part: a kid in the audience said “I have THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT”, leading Mac to talk about how Drew Daywalt planted the kid in the audience to promote book sales.

Here is the exuberant Megan McDonald, author of the JUDY MOODY series.

This is a life-sized Olivia.

Lastly, we were entertained by the lively Adam Rubin, author of DRAGONS LOVE TACOS, ably assisted by a dragon.

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Good Times at WonderCon 2017

My sons and I had a great time attending WonderCon yesterday.

We had beautiful SoCal weather.

Comic conventions always boast entertaining food trucks.

A well-designed Gen. Grievous costume from Star Wars.

With author/illustrator Will Terry at his booth.

With NY Times bestseller and Caldecott honoree, John Rocco.

I moderated a rock star KidLit author/illustrator panel with Joe Cepeda, Stacia Deutsch, Eliza Wheeler, John Rocco and Marla Frazee.

Signing books after the panel, next to Caldecott honorees John Rocco and Marla Frazee (looking like the cat that ate the canary)