Jim Henson’s beloved Muppets made their debut with Sesame Street on November 10, 1969, just six months after I made my own debut into the world. Like millions of other parents, who are about my age now, I grew up with Jim Henson, Kermit, Grover and Big Bird.
By the time I’d outgrown Sesame Street, Henson’s creatures had moved into prime-time, network TV with The Muppet Show, and helped usher me, laughing and dreaming, through adolescence to adulthood.
The worlds Henson created are ones we’ve all, at one time or another in our lives, wished we could inhabit. From The Dark Crystal to Labyrinth, Sesame Street to the Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock to Emmitt Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, Jim Henson’s creatures and stories stir our imaginations and awaken the creative child living – but sometimes stifled – inside all of us. He wasn’t just a skilled maker and performer; he was a master storyteller who taught us how to work together. When immersed in his worlds, Henson shaped us, lifted us up, and showed us how to navigate the real world with kindness and compassion.
All of Henson’s humor, imagination, and humanity shine through in New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer’s portrayal of the entertainment legend in I Am Jim Henson. In this 11th installment of Meltzer’s wildly popular “Ordinary People Change the World” book series, your Nerds will learn:
- How kids just like them can grow up to do extraordinary things – maybe even become one of the world’s greatest inspirational performers and makers ever!
- How even the most successful people face steep challenges and need help to overcome them; and
- The importance of failure and persistence in bringing their dreams to fruition.
- In last week’s Raising Nerd Profile, Meltzer revealed his inspiration for why he chose some of the subjects for his I Am series. He set out to develop a series that would include a wide variety of real-life heroes for his kids, as well as your own, to look up to. One of his son’s is creative, so he “gave” him the best creative he knew: Jim Henson.
- With so many other compelling titles to review from Meltzer’s series, why did Raising Nerd choose to review this one, in particular? Well, partly it was because of the timing of the book’s release (Jan 10, 2017) and that we would have the opportunity to meet Meltzer, in person, at a book signing at Politics & Prose in Washington, DC. And partly because Henson was one of my own creative heroes. But the main reason was because Henson’s creative spirit, hard work, and relentless ability to dream continue to influence the lives of makers, Nerds, and not-yet-Nerds everywhere.
Why Your Nerds Will Love It
- The first thing young readers will notice about the heroes in Meltzer’s I Am books is that all of them are depicted as children, but with their more-recognizable adult features intact. In I Am Jim Henson, the pint-sized Muppeteer sports a full beard as he navigates the formative events from his childhood and throughout his extraordinary career. This is no gimmick done just for laughs (though you and your Nerds will laugh). It’s an extremely effective way to help kids connect with the I Am stories immediately, inspire them to dream big, and see the possibility that they, too, can do great things if they work hard and never give up.
- I Am Jim Henson will spark their creativity. How could it not? Your Nerds will want to run out immediately and write their own stories, make their own puppet or Muppet or…whatever, and create their own fantastic worlds in which to run around.
- They’ll learn how Henson got into puppeteering. They’ll also see how his puppets evolved into Muppets, with virtually all their favorite Sesame Street and Muppet Show characters making an appearance in the book.
- Like all Meltzer’s kids books, this one offers a bit of intrigue and interaction for young sleuths. He and his illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos have hidden several Easter eggs throughout, including the author, himself, in disguise.
- The book includes a nice balance of regular text and comic-book dialog bubbles.
Why You’ll Love It as a Nerd Parent
- The book practically begs you to read its first-person narrative aloud. And when you do, you’ll find yourself stifling the urge to read I Am Jim Henson in the voice of Kermit
the Frog, which is, of course, also Henson’s. Even if you just read to yourself, you’ll hear the words spoken in his/their voice. You’re welcome.
- The book provides parents with layers of nostalgia. One layer has to do with the book’s very look and feel. Eliopoulos’ beautiful drawings are reminiscent of Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes (with slightly darker lines and more polished scenery) – irresistible to devout C&H fan’s like this Imperfect Dad! Another is the obvious highlight reel of Henson’s major works I mentioned above. There’s no way for anyone who has or was a kid raised on Sesame Street or The Muppet Show to read this book without having their awe of Henson’s genius – and goodness – renewed.
Like all the I Am books, this isn’t your usual “picture book.” It’s more than a cute, colorfully-illustrated story about a famous personality. It carries weight and substance. The narrative, though accessible to younger readers, also challenges them (but not too much) with themes like economic and racial equality, working together toward a common goal, believing in good in the world, and getting ahead through hard work.
- Meltzer has painstakingly researched his subject(s) with several primary and secondary sources (including interviews with the Henson family) to ensure the history and 1st-person perspective he provided was authentic. Meltzer shared a funny example of this at his Washington, DC, book signing. He said Henson’s family politely pointed out that some artwork hanging on a wall of the childhood home depicted in the book didn’t match the artwork they actually owned. So Meltzer and Eliopoulos agreed to replace it in the final version with a drawing that was historically accurate.
- It provides a nice historical timeline and a good source list of additional reading about Henson’s life and work, including the definitive Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones.
Overall, Brad Meltzer’s I Am Jim Henson is an essential read for lovers, dreamers…and creative Nerds, young and old. It’s a great reminder that there’s still good in the world and an exuberant child living inside all of us. We just have to wake that kid up and still let them dream.