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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The lovers, the dreamers and me: Jim Henson remembered

Today marks the birth date of one of those rare, multi-talented entertainment hyphenates, puppeteer-actor-producer-director-writer and composer, Jim Henson, whose legacy lives on in some of the finest children’s programming ever created.

Born in 1936 in Greenville, Mississippi, Henson accomplished an outstanding, award-winning body of work in his 53 years of life, encompassing both television and film.

Widely known as the creator of “The Muppets,” it was Henson’s skilled presentation of some of these beloved fabric characters, such as “Kermit the Frog” that provided dual stars for him and his amphibian characterization on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

It was also Henson’s puppetry talents that were instrumental to the success of one of the longest running and most honored children’s programs, Sesame Street.

Henson’s life was cut short May 16, 1990, dying within a matter of days after contracting a streptococcal infection.

Today, Henson’s creative work continues through his family-run Jim Henson Company, the Jim Henson Foundation and the multitude of products that bear his signature.

Henson’s alter ego, better known as “Kermit the frog” lives on as well and is voiced by the talented actor, Steve Whitmire.

Henson once said, “When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.”

On September 26, 1992, Henson was proclaimed, "Humanitarian, muppeteer, producer and director of films for children that encourage tolerance, interracial values, equality and fair play," when he was posthumously awarded the Children’s Peace Award. This honor, which is part of the Courage of Conscience Awards, places his name and work alongside that of humanity’s finest contributors: names such as Mahatma Gandhi; John Lennon and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

The video tribute below is also a testament to his words, his work and his life, and is but a fraction of the outpouring of admiration for Henson that has made its way to the Internet over the years.

Featured on the video is the talented Kenny Loggins, singing the “Rainbow Connection” from the 1979 hit film, The Muppet Movie, which was originally sung by Henson as Kermit. The song became part of music history when it made Billboard’s Hot 100 and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Great Healthcare Debate

Over the last few months, I have witnessed a discourse that borders on the ridiculous over healthcare.

Supposedly, intelligent and informed people are debating this issue by yelling, screaming, going ballistic, spreading false information, utilizing scare tactics and even biting body parts – frankly, I don’t understand it.

Healthcare reform is an issue that needs to be addressed whether we are Republican , Democrat or Independent, and whether we like it or not. The financial stability of this country is dependent on reform.

The National Coalition on Health Care, the nation's largest non-profit and “rigorously non-partisan” organization that represents 70 organizations, who in turn employ or represent about 150 million Americans, provides irrefutable statistical information (the hard facts and numbers) about the need for reform, and they don’t have an axe to grind, or an election to win, or a profit to make.

If after perusing NCHC’s website, and seeing the surprising number of mainstream and medical organizations involved that support the dissemination of real facts, or if you have still have doubts, fears or are confused about what a “Public Option” is, versus a "Co-op," the two-minute/39 seconds video below, featuring Robert Reich, is without a doubt, (IMHO) the most succinct and understandable explanation of the facts.

If you found this helpful, pass it on.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

PBS KIDS Reading Rainbow turns its last page

After 26 years of giving children reasons to read and opening up the possibilities that the love of literacy provides, PBS KIDS Reading Rainbow turned its last page Friday, August 28, 2009 when the powers-to-be gave the popular television show walking papers.

Over the years, Reading Rainbow was hosted by the genial yet kid-energizing Hollywood star, LeVar Burton, and even with the show garnering two dozen Emmy wins, a Peabody Award, TV Critics Award and NAACP Image Awards those factors did not prevent the program from being shuttered.

As an educational, as well entertaining children’s show, ranked only after Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood in longevity, this demise comes as a total surprise.

What caused it? Apparently, it was twofold. Budgeting constraints being one cause (no surprise in this economy) but the other reason, which marked the show for the hit list was an initiative started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration. This initiative placed emphasis on providing children with the basic mechanics for reading, such as phonics and spelling, a niche which the current PBS KIDS program Super Why! fills quite nicely.

In an interview done by Ben Calhoun on National Public Radio’s (NPR) Morning edition, Linda Simensky, vice president for children's programming at PBS explained that when Reading Rainbow was first developed in the early 1980’s everyone was trying to figure out "How do we get kids to read books?"

Well, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Department of Education, and PBS have indeed provided the tools to help children learn to read with programs such as Super Why! but mechanics alone will not make lifelong readers. Once grasped, the tools for reading are marvelous to have but reinforcement is necessary.

Exposing young readers to the vast world of literary titles, as Reading Rainbow did during the last quarter century, opened children to the love of books, with the unlimited possibilities they provided, which (to paraphrase the show’s opening song) enabled them to be anywhere, and to let them be anything - that’s what’s in a book, just take a look.

Reading Rainbow will be missed.