Imagination Illustrated: the Jim Henson journal by Karen Falk provides a fascinating look at the very busy and creative life of Jim Henson, Muppet-creator.
Jim Henson wasn't a diarist as such, but he did keep a ‘little red book’ in which he chronologically recorded significant events in his life that included family milestones and business highlights. His daughter, Lisa Henson writes in the forward that:
He kept all those dates in a simple chronology, mixing family and projects indiscriminately. It shows how blurry the boundaries were in his mind between his creative and family life, and these juxtapositions are interesting on a very personal level. – p.8
And that’s exactly what this book does: presenting bits of Henson’s life as a montage of sketches, photos, posters, playbills, storyboards, TV stills, and other various visual detritus. The book is broken into segments roughly covering 10 year chunks (give or take a year or two) starting in 1954 until just prior to his death in 1990. Each segment is given a brief introduction to provide some context and continuity for Henson’s work. Each double spread of pages focuses on a short period of time within a year with a brief description of what’s going on and what the pictures on these pages are about.
I can’t say I was ever a real Henson groupie. I liked the Muppets well-enough but just missed the
hype. My sister was more into it and
that’s how I got side-swiped by Ernie and Bert, Oscar the Grouch and the Cookie
Monster. Cute, fun, but little kids’
stuff. I was ‘way too old’ (8 or 9 years
As an adult I knew about his big film productions, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and was aware of his other TV efforts Fraggle Rock and Dinosaurs. Again, it was cursory awareness with a dash of appreciation for the art work that was more than apparent. Just not high on my list of priorities though.
Nevertheless, this was an interesting book.
Going through this album-like book made me feel that I had missed out on something ‘big’. His creative genius is very evident and I'm amazed at how busy this guy was. Reading about his work in this way, based on the journal that Henson himself created as a chronological record, gives the impression that he goes from one project to the next without pause, that he’s always engaged with creating something, usually with other people, that life was go, go, go. We don’t hear of doubts, struggles or failures. Maybe he didn't have any. Maybe he never ran out of ideas or energy. Maybe he never had a conflict between family life and work. Maybe these are the events that were not recorded because that’s not what he wanted to focus on or remember, or maybe it was the author’s decision to omit these moments. Lots of maybes.
This book may give us some insider information about the creative process for many of Henson’s well known works, but doesn't really give us much insight into who he was. There are bits and pieces related to his family life, like pictures of his family and children, but the focus really is on his work. He seems like a nice man, very likeable and a great collaborator. Maybe he was too busy to have angst-filled moments that often plague creative genius. I think this really has more to do with how this information was derived from ‘the little red book’ and less about who Jim Henson was.
Though an enjoyable meander through Henson’s creative life, this isn't a definitive book about either his life or work. It’s a sampling that emphasises Henson’s amazing ability to create puppets that people of all ages could connect with because he made them seem real. (Kermit the Frog to replace Johnny Carson, anyone?)
I’d recommend this book for older readers who are super keen on Jim Henson, his Muppets, his movies, those interested in the creative process, or if you want to revisit some youthful moments meandering down Sesame Street.
For younger readers try Jim Henson : the guy who played with puppets by Kathleen Krull.
Today's Nonfiction Monday event is being hosted at Jean Little Library. Take a look at various blogs that focus on nonfiction children's literature .