Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Muppet master

In his rave review of The Muppets, Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers points out that Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the other Muppets haven't had a new screen presence in many years. "So the challenge Disney has with The Muppets is to show a new generation what the fuss was all about," he writes.
His verdict: "Slam-dunk."

No doubt many of you have taken the kids to The Muppets Movie, or plan to do so over winter break. I went on Saturday and I loved it enough that I might go again with my big kids when they get home for the holidays.

The kids who love the movie and through it are reintroduced to Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Animal happily have a canon of older Muppet films to discover now. They also surely grew up on Sesame Street and know the Muppets in that way.
In the midst of Muppet mania, youngsters should know about the creative genius behind the beloved characters.

So after you see the movie, track down a copy of Katherine Krull's Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played With Puppets – a terrific new picture book biography with expressive paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.

Henson grew up in a big old farmhouse along the Mississippi River. He had a bucolic childhood with his brother Paul, Krull tells us. With no TV, entertainment was of the imagination-stretching variety. The boys fished, swam, watched fireflies, sang, told stories, watched wildlife and daydreamed. Jim filled notebooks with imagined creatures.

At age 13, Jim had his first cartoon published and at age 16, he had  job on a television puppet show. By college he had his own TV show starring a puppet named Sam. Krull recounts the creation of Kermit and other Henson and his future wife Jane Nebel began calling their puppet creations Muppets - a combination of puppet and marionette.

Krull also describes Henson's life changing moment - the day Joan Ganz Cooney brought him in on the ground floor of her new educational television show for preschoolers. That was Sesame Street, of course.

Not just a story for Muppet-lovers, it's also an inspirational tale for anyone who has a different vision that the typical.

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