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Book review – Paul Klee Hand Puppets

The artist Paul Klee made around 50 hand puppets for his son, Felix, between 1916 to 1925. He started by making a couple of the traditional German Kasperl (Punch and Judy) puppets after Felix saw them in a show in a market and wanted his own. Over the years Paul made other characters based on Felix’s suggestions. The puppets themselves were created mainly out of scraps of material and plaster of paris, however Klee also used electric sockets, bone, buttons and anything else he could find that fit his vision.

Klee never considered these puppets as part of his serious work, in all catalogs he never listed them (although he did agonize over this decision).

Paul Klee Hand Puppets (ISBN 3 7757 1740 4) is filled with 86 colour photographs of the remaining 30 puppets as well as numerous black and white photographs and a number of essays about the puppets including one from Felix and one from Felix’s son, Aljoscha. The detail and level of art that has been harnessed to create these fragile puppets is extraordinary and this book captures them beautifully.

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review – Street Gang

Street Gang, Michael Davis

Street Gang is a comprehensive look at the creation of Sesame Street by journalist Michael Davis. I had no knowledge of how Sesame Street had begun before opening this book and it is an epic, unfolding tale. Before the show was even dreamed of, Joan Ganz Cooney, the driving force behind Sesame Street, was commissioned to do a study on whether television could be used to educate children. Having grown up in a world in that children’s television was saturated with education and moralising, the idea that people had to be convinced that TV could be used for purposes other than just entertainment was pretty incredible to me.

The book looks at the decades of children’s television before Sesame Street and examines both the shows and the performers of this era. Although it is written for an audience clearly more familiar with these shows than I am, it was easy enough to follow the creative talent as they flowed from show to show, and there was only the occasional reference that I didn’t understand. The book also looks at Jim Henson’s early career, but not in any more depth than any of the other creatives, and certainly less than Joan Ganz Cooney. That was something that I didn’t expect in the book, that not only was Jim Henson, pretty much the only name most people associates with Sesame Street, not the founding father of the show, he didn’t come on board until quite late in the creation process. Surprisingly for those not in the know, the show was years in the making before Henson became a part.

The book doesn’t focus on the puppet side of things, and this is because as a comprehensive history of the show the book examines all aspects of the show, of which the puppets are only one part. Each episode is discussed with a panel of educators and child psychologists, they get seen by test audiences and there is a massive pedagogical machine behind it all.

The writing itself does tend to the emotional and flowery occasionally, there were a few times I rolled my eyes at Davis’ turn of phrase, but on the whole this was a really interesting book documenting a fascinating time in television’s history.

S.

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