Mr. Hooper & Sesame Street

Listening to NPR this morning, I heard Michael Davis, the author of Street Gang: The Complete History of "Sesame Street," talking to Diane Rehm on her show. Rehm asked the author to read the script from the "Sesame Street" episode in which the grown-ups explain Mr. Hooper's death to Big Bird. (Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper the storekeeper, had passed away in real life.) The script is a moving piece of writing, and Davis read it well.  He mentioned that the segment, which originally aired on Thanksgiving Day 1983, is on YouTube.

More Thoughts on TV

Here are some more thoughts on children and television, via a Washington Post opinion piece by Lisa Guernsey.

But a flurry of new research says we have more to learn. The problem: We're assuming that our children can make sense of what they watch, no matter how old they are. We're forgetting that huge cognitive leaps occur between the ages of 1 and 7.

Researchers, it turns out, doubt that a 1-year-old can even make sense of the sequence of information on the screen, let alone pick up the wholesome messages in "Sesame Street." There's almost no evidence that children under 5 are picking up on the moral lessons in "VeggieTales," not to mention the supposedly character-building themes of many Disney movies. And the children's shows on PBS may be more educational, but that doesn't mean that they're always getting through to young children.

Read the entire article here. Guernsey also talks about what's good for kids to watch.

If you're turning off the set this week and/or looking for a good picture-book read-aloud, check out The Three Cabritos, by Eric A. Kimmel. The Tex-Mex retelling of the Three Billy Goats Gruff stars a maniacally dancing chupacabra instead of a troll. Lots of fun.

TV Turnoff Week, April 21st-27th

We like television here at Chicken Spaghetti, but the time has come to try turning off the set for a little while. If I get brave, I am going to cut way back on the cable subscription, too. Because of homework (or, rather, his delay in doing it), Junior does not have much time to watch TV after school, but most of what he does watch does not benefit him. At 8, he's gotten too old for programs like "Arthur" and "Clifford," and that leaves us with the edgier world of cable, with its endless parade of bleeped out cursing and, er, digestive problems, not to mention advertising. (The "News at 5" shows/car wrecks/scandal-reporting are no better.) Plus, I think the frantic pace of some of the shows does not have a good effect on my fella's impressionable little brain. I have seen too many dips in behavior after TV-watching not to believe this.

The truth of it is this. Junior's TV watching benefits me. It occupies him while I cook dinner or type on the computer or read. But I had a wake-up call recently when he asked for  Sealy Posturpedic Mattress because they're more comfortable than the one he has. "What?" I said, and he repeated his request. We then had a talk about ads and how they try to sell things to people. It was not the first of this kind of talk, but somehow the message had not sunk in.

Junior groaned when I told him about TV Turnoff Week. Then he said, "That's not fair!" Not exactly the reaction I'd envisioned, but that's okay. I hope that a week without TV will help us figure out something better for him to do when he needs to entertain himself. I don't plan on outlawing the tube forever, but a week will give Junior's dad and me some time to figure out alternatives and perhaps a better TV routine.

Our plans? Spend as much time outdoors as possible. My personal goal is to spend less time on the computer. I'll just have to blog, um, more efficiently.

If you want inspiration to shut off the set at your house, I highly recommend The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid, by Ellen Currey-Wilson (Algonquin Books, 2007). It's a really funny, non-preachy memoir written by a veteran watcher of "Gilligan's Island" and countless other programs. The author knew that she watched too much TV (and had watched too much all her life), and did not want the same for her son. Her biggest obstacle is not her son's viewing habits but her own—and the reasons for them. I came across the book at Lemuria, a bookstore in Jackson, Miss., and ironically, read a lot of it on the plane home when Junior was plugged into a DVD movie. Clearly I have a way to go, too.

The blog Unplug Your Kids offers suggestions for a TV-free week, and people are registering there to participate in a blog challenge. I notice that Ellen Currey-Wilson herself signed up. Although it's not updated that often, her blog has good resources and information; don't miss it.

Good luck to all the others participating this week. When the Turnoff turns back on, I'll let you know how we fared. In the mean time, I'll keep talking about books.

Black History Month

February is Black History Month, and the Book Buds blog honors it well with this roundup. The Brooklyn Public Library offers another good one.

A terrific starting place for searching out titles by and about African Americans is the Black Books Galore! series. Four guides, chock full of suggestions, can be found at your library, bookstore, or online at the Black Books Galore! web site. The first one alone mentions more than 500 of "the most positive, best written, and most acclaimed titles available,"  according to the site.

If you saw the recent 4-part PBS special "African American Lives," you know how good it was. If you missed it, the shows are now available on DVD. Insist that your library order these. The affable Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates talks to prominent African Americans like Oprah, Quincy Jones, and Chris Tucker, and helps them trace their family roots.  The horrid institution of  slavery, and its devaluing of human life, make such searches difficult, but Gates and his researchers persevere and come up with astounding personal histories.  Using information gleaned from new DNA technology, Chris Tucker even travels to Africa to the area where his ancestors lived. Above all, the series emphasizes the heroism and triumph of ordinary people. Highly recommended for older children, especially teens, and adults.

Martha Stewart: Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum

Who cares what her catchphrase is? Which fairy tale won out on the first episode of "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart"?

I've already given away the answer in the heading: it's "Jack and the Beanstalk."

I missed the show last night. No, I was not sitting around reading Joseph Conrad and feeling above it all. I thought the program started at 9 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. It did not. It began at 8. I even missed the closing credits. Luckily, there are at least 101 articles online for catching up, including these two,  on MSNBC and Yahoo.