Street Gang is a fine example of what my friend Mary would, I think, call a worthwhile audiobook — one where ears-reading is an improvement over eyes-reading. (Examples: Bossypants, things read by Michael York.)
I tried to eyes-read this book when it first came out, but got bored real quick-like and sent it back home to the library. But then I saw it on, what else, OverDrive, and I figured I’d give it another shot. I’d never heard of the narrator, Caroll Spinney, but I quickly discovered that he just so happens to be the voice of both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. He sounds a little Big-Bird-y in his speaking voice, and it was this wonderful cadence that helped me get through the book. Extra bonus: after the book proper is done, there’s an extra hour of interview between Davis and Spinney that is, if not exciting, very interesting to listen to.
The book proper, though… eh. It purports to be the complete history of Sesame Street, but it feels more like a hodge-podge of histories — there’s quite a bit about childrens’s television programs prior to Sesame Street, like Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody, some background on the various actors eventually cast on Sesame Street, and of course rather a lot about Jim Henson, to the point where the book starts with his funeral. And all these little vignettes are just sort of tossed around in the book, so I had a bit of trouble reorienting myself with each new chapter. And I get that that’s probably the point, that this sort of mixed-up narrative is reminiscent of an episode of Sesame Street, but it was hard for me to hold on to the thread most of the time.
But! For interesting conversational tidbits about children’s television? This book fits the bill quite nicely. I learned how Sesame Street got its name (basically: they couldn’t come up with anything better), how much intense educational and market research went into the making of even the very first episode, and how Barney almost ruined Sesame Street, if you need another reason to dislike large purple dinosaurs. And I got to hear Caroll Spinney as Big Bird and Oscar, and doing a passable Ernie and Kermit as well! I do think my tiny cousin’s impression of Ernie’s laugh is much better, though. I might be biased. 🙂
Recommendation: Definitely worth a read or listen if you’ve ever spent way too much time watching PBS in the afternoons.