Puppeteer’s Progress

Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets
By Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
(Random House, New, York, 2011, $16.99)

Childlike yet sophisticated, quirky yet reassuring, The Muppets have entertained generations of children and their parents. Therefore, it’s surprising and disappointing that a picture-book biography of their creator, Jim Henson, lacks the puppets’ playfulness.

Kathleen Krull’s Jim Henson explores the puppeteer’s life from his lazy boyhood days on the Mississippi to his success as a film and television producer. Along the way, readers see young Jim discover the power of television and film and his passion for entertaining. Enchanted by the puppets he sees on television, he will do anything to pursue his interest in puppetry – even if it means being one of the few male home economics majors at his college. Soon, he has his own television show; eventually, he helps create Sesame Street and launches The Muppets franchise.

Krull’s narrative includes interesting facts about Henson; however, her language is often more suited to a middle-grade biography than a picture book. For example, she describes Sesame Street’s lessons as “weirdly appealing.” Henson might have sprung to life more had Krull included shorter, more colorful descriptions of key moments in the puppeteer’s life. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher’s gentle paintings capture the magic behind Henson’s creations: the book’s strongest illustrations depict Henson manipulating and interacting with his puppets.

Jim Henson presupposes readers’ familiarity with Henson’s work. Muppets enthusiasts can only hope that the picture-book biography, along with the recent Muppets film, will interest a new generation in Henson and perhaps even inspire a new generation of future puppeteers.

Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

 

 

 

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