Book13: "Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street" by Michael Davis
Today, parents are bombarded with a million television programs aimed at their younger children at home. You have your Blue’s Clues, your Dora the Explorer, your Wiggles, and a host of other educational shows, but back in 1969, none of that existed. Those days, there were few children’s programs that attempted to teach the very young, and it wasn’t until Sesame Street that millions around the world realized that you could effectively use television to teach pre-school children valuable knowledge with the help of a little green frog and a very big bird.
Michael Davis’ “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street” is exactly what it says. The book chronicles the ins and outs of the show’s entire history, from the very beginning where the original question of “Could television be used to educate children” was asked and lit that first fire needed to bring Sesame Street into existence, all the way to the hype of Tickle-Me-Elmo during the Christmas season of 1996 and today, where Sesame Street is no longer a mere show, but an educational and media institution.
What I appreciate most about “Street Gang” are the rich background stories of all the people involved behind the Muppets, the scenes, and the very creation and idea of the show. I know all about Cookie Monster and Big Bird and Grover and Elmo and I know who Jim Henson is (thanks mostly to The Muppets and Fraggle Rock), but I had no clue and gave no second thought to the others behind Sesame Street. There is Joan Ganz Cooney, the small time producer who, without which, this show would never have aired; Joe Raposo, the musician and composer and genius behind a number of those catchy tunes that with us as children; Carroll Spinney, Frank Oz, and Kevin Clash, who brought Big Bird and Cookie Monster and Elmo to life the a way that no other puppeteers could; and Jon Stone, the head writer and producer, who was the mind and soul behind the program for so many years. In this book, Michael Davis is able to tell all of their stories, where they came from, how the show biz bug bit each one of them, and how they each traveled the road that eventually brought them all together at just the right time. Sesame Street was truly a team effort. Without any one of those people or the dozens of others involved with the show over the years, Sesame Street would be undoubtedly different from what it is today, and in fact, may have never been brought to fruition.
Last November, Sesame Street celebrated its 40th anniversary. Though the show was booked for one hundred thirty shows for its first season, the cast and creators behind Sesame Street never could have imagined that the incredibly noble yet seemingly impossible task that they all sacrificed for would last beyond that first season, let alone another forty. Growing past the age of five, I had written Sesame Street off as nothing more than a kids’ show, but now, thanks to “Street Gang”, I see the err of my viewpoint. Sesame Street is a historical achievement, one where the wants of the children (enjoyable television) and the wants of the parents (an education for their kids) were so joyously and successfully joined.
And yes, this review was brought you by the letter ‘M’ and by the number 4.