Here, There be a Writer

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Take a Little Trip with Me: The Sesame Street Library

I tried a stab at vlogging once. It was an interesting experience, not wholly bad and certainly I learned a thing or two. The big lesson I learned was that I love to research and write. On the flip side, I realized that I can’t record a decent blog to save my life. I would much rather organize my thoughts and put them to paper, or in this case, digital text. I give any vlogger/internet reviewer much consideration and praise. They have the patience to make some truly amazing. They know how present content in a video format. 

So a vlogger, I am not, but I am a writer. I love words. I love to present words to others for their entertainment, enlightenment, and enjoyment. I will say that I enjoy reciting poetry, including my own (I recorded a CD of spoken poetry with David’s help back in 2006: Naked Snow). The point is I love to write and collect words. This is why I became a blogger, because I could collect words and write them down for people to enjoy.

Today’s blog takes us down memory lane. Sesame Street was always something of a favourite with me. I couldn't get enough of Grover, Big Bird, or Oscar. Some of you may remember the “Sesame Street Dictionary” it was a dictionary for children 3 to  8ish. It had word and definition like a regualr 'grown-up' dictionary, but it was made for children, to help them learn common words they would run across in everyday life. I did a vlog on it in 2011. Here's the Vlog. This time I will be focusing on another set of Sesame Street books that come out a couple of years prior to the dictionary.

“The Sesame Street Library” I have a rather large set of nostalgic goggles. I’m not sure when these were fitting to my head, but there was a point in my early twenties, possibly just after graduated college that I re-discovered many things from my childhood. These things suddenly became so important to me. I learned of the term “Nostalgia Goggles” possibly from David and the best way I can define the term (outside of a dictionary definition) is that Nostalgia Goggles are when you suddenly see something in the now and realize that something from your past was so much better. Okay, I might need to go to the dictionary for this one. Nostalgia is define as a 'wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days' (taken from Goggles are type of head gear used to protect one’s eyes from dust, debris, water, etc. So, Nostalgia Goggles can be said to be a pair of metaphorical goggles that one puts on to return to a time in ones past when was happier, or at least a time that sparks happy thoughts (it could work for the negative emotions too, but I am not discussing the negative here). Meaning that ones sees more of the longed for happy time and not necessary to present time. Most time it refers to seeing old cartoons, TV shows, or music that will bring people into a type of revelry about what was good and/or bad about said cartoon or TV show.

Off track, ‘The Sesame Street Library” was a 15 book set that was published in 1978 and1979. The first 12 books were published in 1978, while the last three volumes were published in 1979. They all follow the same pattern; each volume features stories that use the Sesame characters, recipes/activities, and pages that feel like Sesame commercials, such as a page featuring Count Von Count counting items.

In many ways each volume felt like an episode of Sesame Street with stories, lessons, and learning (a bit o' alliteration there). I never had these growing up. I don’t even remember why. I had half of the "Big Bird’s Sesame Street Dictionary” which was a re-print of the “Sesame Street Dictionary”. They were sold in our local Tops Markets. It was one of those deals where each week there would be a new volume for 1.99 (I think). So, I am looking at this set of books with the eyes of an adult and some Nostalgia Goggles for the past in regards to all things Sesame Street.

“The Sesame Street Library” is more from David’s perspective. He remembers it was something that he received in the mail, which might explain why I didn’t have them as a kid. I receive a number of this in the mail as a kid, mostly books from Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club or Children’s Choice Book Club. I am 3 years younger than David, so maybe by the time I was old enough the books these weren't sold anymore. Well, anyway, I am going to take you through a volume of the "Sesame Street Library". I may not have read them as a child, but the characters certainly bring back a bit of Nostalgia for me.

The great thing about this series is that while the “Sesame Street Dictionary” featured one artist, Joe Mathieu and text from Linda Hayward. While the “Sesame Street Library” utilizes several writers and illustrators such as Michael K. Frith, Jon Stone, Jerry Juhl, and Carol Spinney to name a few. My adult mind finds this fascinating. I really enjoyed (and still do) the art of Joe Mathieu, but there are some other fun artists who have interesting takes on the Sesame characters.

Volume 1 takes us down the road a bit using the letters A and B and the number 1. This equation is very much in keeping with a Sesame episode that I can’t help but feel at home already. It begins with a story about the letter A and features Big Bird and uses the art of Joe Mathieu. “An A Story” is a cute little tasle about Alligators, Apples, and Arrows; I love the alliteration here and the colourful illustrations that go well with it.  

Right after the story, on the next page is one of the educational adverts (commercials) tucked between two segments, Count Von Count counting with more Joe Mathieu art.

Now we get to the interactive segments, here is a "Cookie Monster's Famous Cookie Dough"; drawn in black and blue (white background of course) by Michael Frith. Frith was a children’s book illustrator and editor first. He worked with the likes of Theodore Geisel, whom he was a close friend of also at Random House before being recruited by Jim Henson in 1975. He actually worked on several Sesame projects (The Sesame Street Storybook and Big Bird's Busy Book to name a few) for Random House prior to joining the Henson team. We went on to help create the show “Fraggle Rock” and after he left Henson Productions he started his own company, “Sirius Thinking Ltd” that developed “Between the Lions.” Anyway, artistically this segment is eye catching and instruction wise it's simple and creative, and it’s signed by Cookie himself. How many kids really believed that Cookie wrote this himself, okay maybe some still do. It’s okay; I would feel the same way.

Up next is a story that features Bert and Ernie and the number 1 “Bert’s Bath” uses the number 1 heavily through. The repetition is a good way to get the concept of what the number 1 is and you have the comedy of Ernie trying ton get everything Bert need for his bath, 1 of that is. The illustrations done by Mel Crawford gives the whole story a real Bert and Ernie feel. You almost feel that what you are reading has happened on TV.

“Ernie Presents: The Letter A”, it’s another educational advert feature Ernie and Cookie. I am not sure who drew this one, but it funny. Classic Cookie moment at the end! Spoilers!

Here is another interactive story, A Happy-Sad-Happy-Sad-Happy Story”, this time with what looks like Bob reading a story and asking the children listening to the story to hold up Happy and Sad faces (that can be made as a craft) throughout the story using Frith’s art. I can see how this one could be used by teachers or daycare providers. This also uses a black and pink colour scheme.

Another advert using random pictures of Sesame characters dressed up as different professions. Cute, well, yeah, but purpose, not sure. Maybe my grown-up mind doesn’t get it. Featuring random Sesame Muppets, this time one being Herry Monster (a lesser known monster, in the last couple of years), I am not really complaining, I just don’t get it. Harry McNaught is the artist featured here.

Herry Monster advertising Criminal Justice
Moving on to another story, this time “The Princess and the Cookie”, while this is my first time reading these, I can already tell that the stories were the high point of this series. All of the stories used in this series feature one or more of the core Sesame characters in an original story. So far I have seen only original stories used in these story segment (more on this later). It is unclear who wrote the story, Kelly Oechsli illustrated it. Best picture of Cookie ever

Another advert using Big Bird, Little Bird, and Grover with credit going to Charles Rowan, this is another case where I think they wanted to feature the Sesame characters just for the kids and no other purpose other than that.

I should point out that with the recipe segment in this volume is broken into parts. The previous segment was making the cookie dough, now we are making the shaped cookies. Frith comes back to continue Cookies’ baking endevours and the forthcoming adventures of Cookie and his baking in volume 2.

“Bert and the Beanstalk” the story to begin the second half of this volume, also done by Frith, this time the story is basically an adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk with Bert and Ernie, although it’s most Bert’s story. The artist while Frith’s work looks similar to Mathieu’s here. This doesn’t bother me at all. I like both

Advert time: a quick page of shapes and an activity involving drawing pictures with shapes. There is some classic Ernie humour here. It’s a nice touch, feels a bit out of place though, or at least needs a bit more. I realize that space was probably a factor, but in two pages you could show more shapes and have a bigger space to show examples, or space to have an activity. This was drawn by Mel Crawford.

Story: “Oscar’s Worst Day” a quick page vignette about cleaning up featuring Oscar. The first time in this volume Oscar has appeared as has the Human characters. As an Oscar fan, I can really appreciate this entry. The cartoonized versions of David, Maria, Susan, and Mr. Hooper are just fun, drawn by Frith.
Sesame Street humans in Cartoon form.

Now we have a retelling of a classic fairy tale, this time it’s “Princess and the Pea,” shortened to a single page and an illustrated page done by Michael Smollin. This is a nice touch giving kids the classic fairy tales that have been around since forever, as well as the newer stories.

Advert: a two page illustrated joke with Bert and Ernie, which looks to be the work of Frith (after a bit of searching). I always loved jokes as a kids, it’s good to see that someone else does too, even if they are cheesy.

Another craft segment called “Crafts for all Seasons” and illustrated by the multi-talented, Carol Spinney. It is only fitting that Oscar is featured in this segment as he is Oscar and also Big Bird. Carol was not just a puppeteer, but also an illustrator. It’s a great segment, because it ties into each of the season. I would have loved these crafts as a kid; flowers and pin wheels, rock! Who need all that flashy stuff when you have a pinwheel?!?! Drawn with black and yellow on white background, I think the less colours used makes it more striking.
And the teaser for the next volume, done with Bert and Ernie, as Big Bird did the teaser for the Sesame Street Dictionary by Frith.

Bert and Ernie Teaser for Volume 2

There was quite a cast list of writers and illustrators in volume 1, and while there was a rotating group that changed each volume, it’s clear that these books were a labour of love for many. You have Michael Frith who worked with and was close friends with Theodor Geisel before joining Henson Associates in 1975 as Art Director. There’s Jon Stone, the head writer and producer of Sesame Street itself, and who wrote “Monster at the End of this Book.” Another one was Jerry Juhl, who was one of the original writers and who wrote the screen adaptation of “Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas.” And Carol Spinney who operated Oscar and Big Bird, he was also an artist/painter, lending his talents to “The Sesame Street Library.” 
I think it’s safe to say that, had I had these in my collection back in the day, they would have been well loved, and probably there would have been a million pin wheels in my room.


  1. Wow; Cindy - this post of yours took me straight back to 1979! As an adult, I've been searching for a very long time to find a copy of the Sesame Street book that I had when I was five. I could see very vague fragments of it in my mind, and all I remembered for certain was that it contained the story of The Princess and the Pea. When I saw the book's cover on your website, I thought there was a chance this could be The One, but there was no doubt after reading your post. You wrote THE PERFECT POST for me! Story after story took me straight back! You've cleared up a huge mystery that has been troubling me for a very long while! Thank you SO MUCH; I couldn't in my wildest dreams conceive a better post for solving the mystery of the Sesame Street book!

  2. My daughter used to attend a Charter School in Connecticut and she told me about this Book Van that comes to the school offering free books in exchange for used ones. Children were allowed to take up to a certain amount, for free. When I showed up at the school, the owner of the Book van was hauling the remaining crates back inside the van. As she continued to put the books away, I asked her if I could take a look at the remaining books and she consented. I was looking for the big Sesame Street books I used to read when I visited the Public Library in New York City. The first book I picked up from a crate was a Sesame Street book and as I turned the pages I saw the story of The Princess and the Cookie. I couldn't believe my eyes and I began to cry. I was looking for this book for years, and thought i would never find it. The Book Van lady asked me why I was crying and I told her my sisters and I read these stories as children, and even memorized some of the stories by heart. I recited that story to her and she was amazed, and told me I could have it - I was elated! Thank you so much for posting this blog and keeping these amazing books and stories alive. They might be out of print but these stories are vivid in our hearts.


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