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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Random House, 2011. $18.00 ages 6 and up

"He made his first public appearance as a Cub Scout. While a fellow Scout tried to tell jokes, Jim stood behind him, wrapped his arms around his friend's chest, and waved a white handkerchief in his face. Everyone giggled. Making people laugh - to Jim, that was magic."

Oh, our family loved to sit down and watch The Muppet Show together. I recently bought its three seasons for each of our three houses, and it is a wonderful reminder of great times spent laughing and repeating dialogue from Statler and Waldorf, the Swedish chef, Rowlf and the others. Now that my family is spread across the country, the shows are one of those things that connect us to an early happy time. The characters remain fresh and lovable. The variety shows are so much fun!

Jim Henson begins at the beginning; a young family with no TV. Jim loved to draw and create from his verdant imagination, and he loved being outside where he could watch and admire all that nature offered a young boy. In high school, he chose to join the puppetry club and also got a job as a marionette for a Saturday morning television show. It was his first job in a field that would hold his interest for the rest of his life.

In telling his story, Kathleen Krull describes the way he created what were to become his beloved and still flourishing Muppets. Using flexible fabric rather than the wood that was used for most puppets at the time, he was able to give lifelike expression to Fozzie, Kermit, Miss Piggie and a host of other beloved characters.

For those who may not know much about the 'guy who played with puppets', this is a useful introduction to his life and his art. He was a consummate artist and family man, who worked diligently to bring his Muppets to a worldwide audience. His work did not just include the Muppets, but also characters such as Yoda, of Star Wars fame. He had abundant energy and was always working to perfect his art.

The writing is clear, and unencumbered. Young readers will gain knowledge about Jim Henson, his life, his family and his creativity. It is a lasting legacy for a man who died too soon, and before he had accomplished so much more. The artwork created by Steven Johnson and Lou Fancher is filled with color and offer constant reminders of the many recognizable and much-loved Muppets brought to life through Jim Henson's vision. The allow us to see how Jim and his many co-workers manipulated those puppets, and from what angles, to entertain us so thoroughly over all these many years.

Another picture book biography to add to my ever-growing list and one that ensures Jim Henson's life story will inform a new generation of readers. Pair it with Joan Holub's Who Is Jim Henson?  to help interested readers and researchers learn more about this creative genius. There are many bits of 'didja know' to enhance the learning and wow the audience. His life was celebrated with color and joy upon his death...a fitting tribute to the man who brought such joy to children through his many wondrous puppets.

Additional sources are cited for anyone wanting to know even more.

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