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Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street Hardcover – Bargain Price, December 26, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Caroll Spinney (, the voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch and winner of the Library of Congress's Living Legend Award, here narrates journalist Davis's gentle yet often surprising look at Sesame Street, the world's longest-running (40 years) and widest-reaching (120 countries) children's show. This will be a sure-fire hit in just about every library; highly recommended. [Includes a bonus interview with Davis and Spinney; the Viking hc was recommended "for all reference and browsing collections," LJ 12/08; visit for a bonus chapter profiling Roscoe Orman, who played Gordon on the show.—Ed.]—Joseph L. Carlson, Vandenberg Air Force Base Lib., Lompoc, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From The New Yorker

In this history of �Sesame Street,� Davis writes that when the show d�buted, in 1969, the goal of its creators was nothing short of righting �the inequities in our society� through the education of lower-class preschoolers. Such populist choices as an urban setting, a multiracial cast, and a catchy brand of �edutainment� reflected both the mood of the era (it should �jump and move fast and feel and sound like 1969,� a producer said) and painstaking research: a series of seminars held in the summer of 1968 was attended by developmental psychologists, television-industry insiders, and children�s authors and entertainers (Maurice Sendak endured boring sessions by making X-rated doodles; Jim Henson�s sandals and beard sparked fears that he was a Weatherman). The book�s strongest sections are culled from extensive interviews with Joan Ganz Cooney, who oversaw production for more than twenty years, but the narrative loses steam once the show hits the air.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1 edition (December 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616880511
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616880514
  • ASIN: B0029LHWHC
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,435,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 63 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The television show that can appeal to children and make parents feel like they are good parents and upright citizens for showing it to their kids, that is where the money lies, my friends. Growing up I was not a discerning television viewer. I watched Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow, Pinwheel, Today's Special, and a whole host of bad cartoons ranging from Space Ghost to that bizarre time traveling one that was basically just a half hour commercial for Laser Tag. There was maybe only one show amongst the batch that some part of my small reptilian brain recognized as better than the rest. I was an avid Sesame Street fan. I loved the show, the movies, the awful books they churned out (The Monster at the End of this Book excepted). Oddly, this love didn't fade as I grew up. I still have a strange fascination with the world it created and years ago I purchased Sesame Street Unpaved to sate some of my curiosity. Who were these people who created my mental childhood home? Who were the actors? The puppeteers? The writers? Unpaved didn't do much to answer any of that, aside from giving me choice nuggets like the fact that Bob was a teen singing sensation in Japan. So the time seems just about right for Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. Pulling in at a cool 406 pages, author Michael Davis has gone above and beyond the call of duty. And while I might have removed a chunk or two for the sake of svelting down the book as a whole, you will not and can not find a book that will better answer your questions about the birth of this most impressive of children's television shows.Read more ›
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Svitavsky on April 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
When I was in grad school, I signed up for a class called Death and Literature. The description sounded awesome and I was being a bit morbid. What it turned out to be was a philosophy class in literature class clothing, which resulted in me reading Heidegger for weeks at a time, only occasionally broken up by "She" or "Dracula." The few moments of awesomeness did not make up for the fact that I was dragged through "Being and Time." And that's what reading "Street Gang" is like.

This is not a complete history of Sesame Street. This is a slog through the personal histories of several of the key players who created Sesame Street: Joan Ganz Cooney, Jon Stone, David Connell, Sam Gibbon, and Jim Henson. And when I saw histories, I mean you learn about their parents' upbringing, their upbringing, schooling, weird relationships, everything! This book is hyper-detailed, bogging it down. What isn't about family history is about how the show got funded, which has the potential to be interesting if we weren't forced to walk through every step of the process. And, of course, we do. You finally get to the genesis of the show and its characters and stories in Chapter 12... so if you want just that, skip to page 166.

To finish my complaint on the book's completeness, it skims a fair amount of the 1980s (compared to the detail of earlier chapters) and gives very little info on the mid-1990s and beyond. This is probably because management changed at the CTW and Davis does not fawn over these people. Elmo is the most-covered subject during this time period.

I'd also have to say that the writing structure is incredibly awkward.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Madigan McGillicuddy on August 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Davis' background as a journalist really shines through in this exhaustively researched look into the team behind Sesame Street. Spanning five years of interviews with cast and crew, Davis paints a painstaking picture of all the ins-and-outs, all the personalities, all the behind-the-scenes office politics that shaped this television institution. Pioneering the "edu-tainment" niche, Sesame Street was really the first children's show to take educational research seriously, incorporating PhDs on their staff and applying for educational grants to meet budgetary needs.

There's a lot of background info here... quite a lot on the earlier show, Captain Kangaroo. Warm and genial on screen, Bob Keeshan was a sometimes moody prankster on the set. A number of the writers and crew made the jump to Sesame Street when it started, and they brought lessons they learned from the Captain with them, namely, that an ensemble cast would provide less headaches than a single, tempermental actor.

Jim Henson was probably the most widely celebrated Sesame Street contributor, with his furry, funny, wonderful Muppets. Davis also spotlights Children's Television Workshop founding member and Sesame producer, Joan Ganz Cooney and her struggles to be taken seriously in the "man's world" of television production in the late 60's and onward. I didn't know that Bob McGrath, one of the longest-running original cast members got his start as a Japanese pop-singing sensation! I was also unaware that Northern James Calloway, who played David on the show, had such a troubled history. Towards the end of his run on the show, his behavior became increasingly erratic as he struggled with manic-depression.
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