Paper World

I am Jim Henson / The Playful Eye

Books That Belong On Paper Issue No. 16

Books That Belong On Paper first appeared on the web as Wink Books and was edited by Carla Sinclair. Sign up here to get the issues a week early in your inbox.


I am Jim Henson (Ordinary People Change the World)
by Brad Meltzer, Christopher Eliopoulos (Illustrator)
Dial Books
2017, 40 pages, 7.8 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches, Hardcover

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If you grew up at a certain time there were people that were icons. Way past the rank of celebrity, bigger than characters, they were men and women whose beings and creations were intertwined into the very fabric of the things we loved to watch, read, and do. And if you were anything like me, one of those people was Jim Henson. From Sesame Street to the Muppets to (especially for me) Labyrinth, his creations and those that he curated and inspired weaved themselves deeply into the pop culture interests of kids all over the world. They were like the air, they just existed around us and we felt like it was part of the natural order of things.

But in the end Jim Henson was just a person, just an ordinary human who started life simply and lived his life from there. Along the way, however, he changed the world with a piece of cloth he took from his mother’s coat and a ping pong ball.

Creating Kermit the Frog is just one of the stories that you’ll find in I Am Jim Henson, a great entry in the ongoing series “Ordinary People Change the World” by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos (this is one of their more recent releases but the series covers important and fascinating figures like Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, and George Washington among many others). If you’re familiar with Eliopoulos’ work then you know that you’re in for a visual treat and you won’t be let down. I’ve found his Bill Watterson-inspired art a treat for years now and this series is the perfect showcase for it. It’s cute, it’s funny, and both kids and adults will love it.

I’ve honestly read very little Meltzer as I’m not a big fan of thriller novels or the comic book work of his that I’ve dipped my toes into, but his approach here is fascinating and really resonates with the reader. Meltzer uses Henson as his narrator, even going so far as to use many actual quotes by Henson as dialogue, and as a narrator he’s not telling the reader about his life, he’s telling the reader a story about his life. The distinction is important as the book becomes a testament to storytelling, enriching perhaps the greatest accomplishment that Henson and his co-creators (many of whom are characters in the book) ever made: Using impersonal and inanimate objects to create lively stories that could make a viewer laugh, cry, or think without spending a single moment thinking about the fact that a piece of cloth and a pair of hands was making it happen. Meltzer pulls the same trick in this book, turning an autobiographical book into a parable about the power of storytelling. Not a bad bit of slight-of-hand for something intended to be read by (or to) rugrats.

The book also hones in on the concept of “goodness” that was a hallmark of Henson & Co.’s work and Meltzer builds up to it carefully throughout the story, making the impact ring soundly. Henson believed that this goodness was the key ingredient to his work and that comedy didn’t have to be mean to be funny and you don’t have to be funny by being mean. His approach was validated by the immense popularity of the work he was a part of and while it’s not, of course, the only approach, it put Sesame Street and the Muppets in the heart of millions and millions of people.

And that’s a story worth telling.

– Rob Trevino


The Playful Eye: An Album of Visual Delight
by Julian Rothenstein, Mel Gooding
Chronicle Books
2000, 112 pages, 9.9 x 0.5 x 12.7 inches, Paperback

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These vintage cards and old placards display optical illusions, visual witticisms, hidden images, rebuses, and artistic paradoxes from yesteryear. They were the equivalent of Gifs back then — eye candy worth sharing. Here they are gathered in a oversized paperback for your entertainment and amazement.

– Kevin Kelly


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