word book

I wrote a lot of words about a word book yesterday, which seems appropriate, but, to be honest, reading the 1983 edition of The Sesame Street Word Book is a primarily a visual experience. It’s telling that there isn’t an author listed for the book – the only credit on the cover is “illustrated by Tom Leigh.” Because, while it is great that The Sesame Street Word Book teaches us obscure terms like “pancake turner”, “otoscope,” and “hod carrier”, the real fun of the book lies in Leigh’s illustrations. So, in an attempt to convey just what an entertaining book this is to flip through, here are my personal picks for my fifteen favorite illustrations from The Sesame Street Word Book.

Some of these are sweet, some are funny. Some are unintentionally funny. Some are only funny because they remind you that, yes, this book was indeed published in 1983. But, regardless, they all just make me love this book all the more.

1. Hello!

Sesame Street Word Book - Rodeo RosieQuestion: What’s cuter than a semi-obscure Sesame Street character saying “Hello”? Answer: Nothing. Have a great rest of the day, Rodeo Rosie.

2. Bathroom Sandwich

Sesame Street Word Book - ErnieThere is a recurring visual joke that runs throughout a lot of Sesame Street books in which the perpetually bathing Ernie is always pictured with a sandwich that he has apparently brought into the bathroom with him. (It shows up pretty often in the 1980s Sesame Street Book Club books.) This is both hilarious and really, really gross. [read the rest of the post…]


The Sesame Street Word Book (1983)

The original version of the very fun “Sesame Street Word Book.”

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a big fan of old-school Sesame Street books. And, by “old school”, I’m typically talking about the pre-Elmo era. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but Sesame Street always felt so much more engaging to me when the street was a little grimy and urban (it looks so gentrified now), when Jim Henson and Frank Oz were stationed beneath Ernie and Bert, and when you could always find an afro or two sitting at the counter at Mr. Hooper’s store. One of my favorite Sesame Street books from this era is The Sesame Street Word Book, illustrated by Tom Leigh, a tremendous illustrator with a wide body of Sesame Street projects on his resume.

However, there are TWO versions of The Sesame Street Word Book out there – the original 1983 edition and a re-issued 1998 edition – and one is CLEARLY superior to the other. Let me give you a quick overview of the book itself and then I’ll let you know which one to embrace and which to avoid.

The Sesame Street Word Book (1998)

The revised edition of the “Sesame Street Word Book”. Can you spot the differences? HINT: Elmo…)

If you’ve never seen it before, The Sesame Street Word Book is probably the closest thing I’ve ever found to a Sesame Street version of a Richard Scarry book. My daughter adores all of those over-sized Scarry books like the Best Word Book Ever, What Do People Do All Day?, and Cars and Trucks and Things That Go – those big, uber-detailed landscape spreads packed with scenes of city life, a huge cast of characters, and absolutely everything labeled. They make great road trip books and they’re the kinds of books that a kid can get lost in for an entire afternoon.

As I mentioned, The Sesame Street Word Book follows the Richard Scarry model pretty closely, offering a variety of scenes featuring Sesame Street characters where we learn about a big swath of topics, everything from feelings and shapes to what we can expect to find in a doctor’s office or in a supermarket.

The book opens with a great “Note to Parents” from the Children’s Television Workshop, which tells us: “The Sesame Street Word Book provides children with a rich and colorful environment in which to explore the world of words. Entertaining scenes introduce more than 1000 words in context to help children’s expand and organize their vocabulary. Detailed pictures with easy-to-read labels demonstrate that words are symbols – for actions, people, places, and things.”

That’s probably one of the best definitions of a “word book” that I’ve ever heard. We had a lot of word books in rotation in my daughter’s room when she was very young, but, as she got older, she became less and less interested in them. Many word books come across as just illustrated dictionaries and, once my daughter learned all of the terminology for kitchen utensils or farm animals, she very quickly lost interest with most of the word books in our library. It’s a testament to the quality and depth of books like The Sesame Street Word Book and the works of Richard Scarry that I still occasionally find my daughter flipping through them on rainy days.

The Sesame Street Word Book (1983) - Mr. Hooper

I miss Mr. Hooper…

While Tom Leigh doesn’t have Richard Scarry‘s virtuoso talent (who does?), he is an incredibly skilled artist and the level of detail and character he packs into The Sesame Street Word Book is amazing. With the possible exception of Michael Smollin (illustrator of The Monster at the End of this Book), I consider Leigh to be the definitive Sesame Street illustrator of all time (which is saying something when you realize how many Sesame Street books have been published over the years).

But, as I mentioned at the start, Leigh produced TWO different versions of The Sesame Street Word Book – the original 1983 version and a re-issued version in 1998. And, as you may be able to guess from the introduction to this article, I greatly prefer the original version. But that’s not just my old-school Sesame nostalgia talking. The fact is – the 1983 Sesame Street Word Book is a much longer, deeper, and all-around better piece of work. While you can sometimes find descriptions online of the 1998 version adding “additional art,” the truth is that the 1998 revision cuts out almost a third of the original book for no real discernable reason. [read the rest of the post…]


People by Blexbolex

These are the people in your neighborhood… your incredibly eclectic neighborhood…

Welcome back to the second installment of What We Took Out From the Library Last Week, a brief glimpse at the FIVE books my five-year-old daughter checked out during our last trip to our local library. We’re going in order, so I can now tell you that the second book we picked out is… a very unusual book. It’s a picture book. (OK.) And a word book. (Seems a bit young for a five-year-old.) A 200-page word book. (What? Really?) A 200-page word book that teaches kids about contortionists, centaurs, fakirs, tattooed men, rabbis, cat burglars, and more. (You’re messing with me, right? Right?)

It’s an extremely cool book called People by Blexbolex. That’s right. Blexbolex.

Reason Why France Is Pretty Cool #497: A guy can rename himself “Blexbolex” and it doesn’t seem completely ridiculous. I mean, it’s a little odd, but I think the guy pulls it off. Maybe I’m just cutting him some slack because I’m so fond of his book. People is easily one of the best designed and most visually stunning titles we’ve checked out from the library all year. We’ve danced around it for the past few weeks. The past three times we’ve been at the library, my daughter has taken it off the shelf, paged through it, considered it, and put it back. For whatever reason, last Friday was the day the book finally came home with us and I’m glad it did. I suppose you could call People a word book – it just has a single illustration of a person and a word describing that person on each page – but it’s really so much more than that.

(For those of you who don’t know, a “word book” is a pretty common kind of picture book for really young readers. It’s primary purpose is, simply, to teach children new words. They’re filled with images of common, everyday things and the word identifying each object appears right underneath the image. Richard Scarry is the KING of the word book.)

The illustrations in People are beautiful. They’re wonderfully simple and iconic representations of different kinds of human beings, done in a fashion that almost makes them look they’re screen-printed or stamped onto each page. But Blexbolex’s concept goes way, way beyond where normal word books leave off. People is a big book – 200-plus pages – and Blexbolex fills each page with extremely insightful images of a HUGE variety of people. And we’re not just talking about firemen and doctors.

People by Blexbolex

They’re like flash cards for humanity…

The book starts with a two-page spread of Man and Woman, but, after that, the pairings get more and more specific and unique. You get match-ups like Couple -Bachelor, Corpse-Retiree, Friend-Foe, Builder-Demolisher, Monk-Rabbi, Nudist-Invisible Man, Amputee-Cyclops, Princess-Werewolf, and so on. Some of the people-types are a little on the unusual or almost macabre side, but there’s nothing mean-spirited or inappropriate about them. My daughter loved encountering words, terms, and personality-types that she’d never encountered before. (“Daddy, what’s an Emir?”) [read the rest of the post…]