Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets

What It Is

This picture book biography tells the story of Jim Henson, a boy with an extraordinary mind living an ordinary life in Mississippi. Jim liked using the arts to make people laugh rather than playing sports like most boys his age. Inspired by Edgar Bergen’s puppet, Charlie McCarthy, and L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, Jim published his first cartoon at the age of 13. At 16, he secured a job on a local Saturday morning television puppet show. By the time he was in college, he launched his first TV show, Sam and Friends. He was among the first puppeteers to make puppets using cloth rather than wood so that his Muppets (a combination of the words “marionette” and “puppet”) could show emotion. In 1968, Joan Ganz Cooney approached Jim with the idea of using his Muppets to teach preschool children through television, and Sesame Street was born. Their Sesame Street role made the Muppets a cultural phenomenon that included their own weekly prime-time program and several feature films. Though Jim died unexpectedly in 1990 at the age of 53, his genius lives on, delighting generation after generation of children.

Why It’s Fun

For those who grew up in the 60s, 70s or 80s, Jim Henson was a household name. Though the current young generation may know the Muppets, they may know little or nothing about the man who created them. In fact, when Disney’s The Muppets movie was released in Fall 2011, my daughter asked, “What’s a Muppet?” The timing of this book couldn’t have been better!

Aside from being a creative genius, Jim Henson’s story is a strong example for parents who may (as do many of us from time to time) have preconceived expectations for our children. Jim’s father wanted him to be a scientist and follow in his footsteps. Jim hated science and went against his father’s wishes to pursue his dreams. Looks like Jim was right for himself and all of us!

There are many interesting facts in the book. For example, Kermit was first made out of Jim’s mother’s green coat and was named after a childhood friend. Also, the Muppets introduced the very first season of Saturday Night Live, and Jim helped create the legendary Star Wars character, Yoda.

Who’s Going To Love It

Biographies are an important genre of books to include in a child’s reading repertoire. Though all ages love the Muppets, this book is for kindergartners and older because of its length and detailed content. Nearly every child knows Sesame Street, and with the resurgence in popularity of “the Muppets,” this book is very timely and a great way to learn a bit of modern entertainment history together. Plus, Jim Henson is a terrific role model for children and adults.

Reading Time

About 10 minutes

Read-It-Again Points

8 out of 10

Book Information

JIM HENSON: THE GUY WHO PLAYED WITH PUPPETS
Written by: Kathleen Krull; Illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Published by: Random House (2011)
Approximate retail price: $16.95
Publisher’s recommended ages: 5 - 7 years

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