Picture Book Review: I am Jim Henson by Brad Meltzer, Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

My memories of Jim Henson go back to the early 1970s when I watched Sesame Street each morning with my mother. Big Bird was my favorite followed closely by Oscar the Grouch. Not only did I have numerous Sesame Street play sets, stuffed animals, and clothes (I totally rocked a pair of Seasame Street sneakers from Sears!) my parents bought me so many Sesame Street books that they could be found in nearly every room in the house.  I read The Monster at the End of this Book so many times the cover fell off. All that was left was the golden spine desperately holding the messy, crinkled, candy-stained sticky pages together. Like much of America and Britain, I watched The Muppet Show each Saturday night. The corny camp of muppets juxtaposed to the straight-laced celebrity guest of the week was pure television magic.  Jim’s puppet craftsmanship brought us characters more alive than any cartoon ever could be.  Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest of the gang gave much needed comedic to an American public still reeling from the strains of the Vietnam War and the crisis of the Watergate scandal.  America desperately need a pick-me-up.  The Muppets made us smile again.

Brad Meltzer’s latest Ordinary People Change the World biography, I am Jim Henson, took me straight back to my childhood. Not only did he capture the brilliance of an American cultural icon, Meltzer brought to life for children the creative genius behind some of the most popular characters in media over the last forty years.

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The text is written from the first person point of view with Jim telling his story from childhood through his success as an adult. Jim’s appearance changes only in size throughout the book; as a kid Jim still has the trademark beard.

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Readers are able to see in both short paragraphs and comic book-style panels the seminal events in Jim’s life that lead to his creation of the Muppets.

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I am Jim Henson is the eleventh title in a series that features such luminaries as Lucille Ball, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, and Jane Goodall.  The entire series is easily accessible to children ages 6-9.  As a biographical text, just enough information is given to present a sufficient view of the title character’s contribution to his or her chosen field.  Rather than getting bogged down with dates and lists, Meltzer allows the featured person to tell the story in a kid-friendly voice.

The pictures are beautiful renditions of Jim’s characters, providing a pleasing and nostalgic tone to Jim’s life. A timeline of Jim’s life is placed at the back of the book letting readers know that Jim passed away in 1990.  A few photographs also give readers perspective on Jim’s appearance and contributions to the entertainment and education industries.

Biographies for kids can often be dry retellings of facts with minimal effort at helping children understand the person’s vital contributions to the world. Meltzer not only wrote a fact-filled biography of an American icon, he also showed the reader the inspiring contributions Jim Henson made to the world of children’s television and entertainment. Highest recommendation!

Teacher Information

Lexile Level: 630
Accelerated Reader:  Unavailable
Reading Counts:  Unavailable

Biographies can be so much fun to teach!  While most of the elementary-level biographies, both picture books and chapter books, tend to read as a narrative, in reality the texts are nonfiction.  Many librarians group biographies in a category called literary nonfiction.  Thinking of titles in this manner allows the teacher to teach elements of both fiction and nonfiction at the same time.  It’s the proverbial two-birds-with-one-stone.

Scholastic offers a two week unit on biographies.  The unit assumes that students will be exposed to various types of biographies, so this resource is appropriate only if you use this title as a part of a larger unit on biographies.

ReadWriteThink.org has an interesting approach to researching biographies.  The project is called a Bio-cube.  The unit can be modified to work in a collaborative setting or to complete as a whole class.

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