Sesame Street Saturdays: The Sesame Street Book Brawl

The Three Greatest Sesame Street Reference Books!
Michael Wermuth, Jr. – The three best Sesame Street reference books are, without a doubt, Sesame Street Unpaved, Street Gang, and Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street. All are good, and while some info is repeated among them, they also stand on their own, and are good companions to each other. But suppose you can only have one of the three (never mind the fact that Sesame Street Unpaved is long out-of-print, and the other two are still in stores). Which should you choose? Well, I’ll talk about the differences between them, to show which one might interest you the best.
First of all, if you are interested mostly in the characters and classic moments, then Sesame Street Unpaved: Scripts, Stories, Secrets, and Songs by David Borgenicht is the best choice. That one seems to have the most focus on characters and moments. In addition to a chapter devoted to the cast, the chapter on classic moments (the longest chapter in the book, too, I might add) groups many classic moments by major Muppet characters. There are a number of additional sketches represented between character sections, most of which are animated songs from either Jim Henson or Budd Lucky, and there’s a section on interactions between Muppets and kids (most of them feature Grover, but it also includes the classic where Kermit and a girl named Joey recite the alphabet). Many classic sketches are represented in script form, with several still images from the segments. Most of Guy Smiley’s game shows are more-or-less represented as profiles. There are also “Do you remember?” recaps, describing (as opposed to scripting) a number of segments.
And in addition to the very long chapter on classic moments, there is also a song chapter, though a number of song lyrics appear in the classic moments chapter (and the section on “Would You Like to Buy an O?” also includes a listing of items Lefty has tried to sell, followed by a script of the “Golden An” segment).  This one probably has the least amount of focus on “behind-the-scenes” facts, but there are plenty sprinkled throughout the book. There’s a “Behind-the-Scenes” section, which includes biography pages on seven of the shows main performers in addition to a page listing performers and their characters. The cast section has pages on the human cast, describing the characters and their portrayers equally. Most sections on Muppet characters mention their performers (though the section on supporting Muppet characters generally only gives one mention of performers per character). Unlike the other two books, this one doesn’t really mention any outside Sesame Street productions. This is also the smallest of the three books, and not just because of the long gap between this and the next two books.
Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis has the most coverage of the show’s pre-history, though in my opinion it focuses too much on the pre-history of the show (the pre-history probably takes up more than half the book). It also includes a lot more focus on the people who worked on the show than on the characters itself (though there is plenty of mention of the characters). Usually when somebody is mentioned the book goes on to discuss them, even if they don’t have anything to do with the show. A lot of the pre-history stuff is interesting (especially the children’s shows that came before Sesame Street), but would better belong in separate books. While I appreciate that the first ten years of the show get the most focus, I am disappointed that the remaining years are rushed through. So much for being about the “complete history” of the show (“The Complete Pre-History of Sesame Street” would be a more appropriate title).
Finally, there’s Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street by Louise Gikow. It’s perhaps the best for those wanting behind-the-scenes information. Almost every performer gets mentioned, as do most of the human cast, both past and present. The characters are featured throughout, but those character-specific sections are sparse. Some of the performer pages have short sections on certain characters, and there are pages representing Big Bird and Oscar, Bert and Ernie, and Elmo, and there is a section about characters who have come and gone.
Those wanting to know more about the show’s animation should check this one out as well. Sesame Street Unpaved included images and lyrics from several animation and film inserts but with the exception of Jim Henson didn’t really acknowledge any of the show’s animators or filmmakers, and didn’t provide any special facts on any non-Henson film/animation inserts. Street Gang also hardly mentions any specific animation, with the only animation/film focus being on Jim Henson’s contributions and some of the stuff from the first week. But this book has a big chapter on many of the show’s animation and film inserts, and discusses many of the filmmakers and animators.
Interestingly, very few individual moments get represented in all three books. There are a few that are discussed or presented in script form in all three (the adults explaining Mr. Hooper’s death, Luis and Maria’s wedding, “Rubber Duckie,” Jim Henson’s “Baker” films), but for the most part the majority of segments and episodes represented are only represented in one of the three books.
In conclusion, all three books offer a great read for different reasons. But if you had to pick one, it seems the most recent, Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street, is the best to choose.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

One thought on “Sesame Street Saturdays: The Sesame Street Book Brawl

  1. I have all three.

    *First, I got SSU for Christmas several years back from my aunt, a very rare find, I believe.
    *The day after Christmas '08, we did some after-Christmas shopping and that's when I got SG.
    *Then, in this recent Christmas, I got SS: AC.

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