Sesame Street

While Grover takes/has her nap, a little reflection on her bi-dialectal language acquisition. She's six weeks short of being two, and (orig. AmE) talking up a storm. I'd wondered whether she'd get any Americanisms from me, but (a) I tend to use BrE words when in the UK and (b) I'm just her mother. It's not me she's going to get Americanisms from. It's Elmo.

So, she says (BrE) nappy and cot and loo and peebo (that one is the creche's influence, I think). I've had a little influence on her (and her father) with (AmE) washcloth and bathtub (as opposed to BrE bath). But I took it upon myself to sing the ABC song with (BrE) zed, which led me to entertain myself by making up new endings for the sake of rhyme:
...double-you, ex, why and zed
Now I know my ABCs...

...and it's time to go to bed time you can sing instead
...and a zombie is undead're a Grover born and bred
...can you get that in your head?
In fact, when rocking her to sleep I'd entertain myself by changing the last line each time. But all my zed training was all for (BrE) nought/(AmE) nothing, since this came into our lives:

Now the ABC song bring cries of "Elmo, Elmo!" and Grover sings it beautifully and Americanly. (Her rendition/rendering of it is the ringtone on my (BrE) mobile/(AmE) cellphone.) I was also being very good about saying (BrE) ladybird, not wanting her to be the odd one out for saying ladybug, but then we started singing this song, and the more transparent compound won:

Which is to say that Sesame Street is running our lives. And you know what? I don't really mind all that much. It's much better than Barbie or the Teletubbies or Thomas the Tank Engine, in my book. First, it has a great aesthetic--largely due to the Muppets. Second, it has a great sense of humo(u)r that speaks to child and parent on different levels. I mean, have you seen their Mad Men parody? Or the reggae joy that is Do de Rubber Duck? (And I'm always secretly thrilled/shocked when Hoots the Owl says near-taboo things like "Don't be a stubborn cluck".) Third, the songs are good enough to listen to even when your child is napping, and you just can't say that about the Wiggles. A lot of that is, again, the humo(u)r. I also think that the fact that the (BrE) programme/(AmE) show is made in the mother-city of the musical comedy helps. I also like that it is grounded in a kind of reality (where one has to brush one's teeth and learn to share)--it's not about a dream space like In the Night Garden (which is the drug of choice for toddlers in the UK at the moment, and which I just (BrE) can't get on with aesthetically or interest-wise). And Sesame Street is made by a production company that is all about children. Any profits it makes go toward(s) projects for children around the world.

What makes me reflect on all this is the fact that Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th anniversary (which means that I was 4 when it first started--part of their original demographic), and the BBC website published a piece called "Why did Britain fall out of love with Sesame Street?", which was interesting reading. Grover gets her Street fix in a number of ways. She was introduced to it by an animatronic Elmo doll, a gift from her American Papa. Then we got a CD of Sesame Street songs and now we have probably about five 20-minute sessions with each week. (Grover: "Puter. Elmo. Turn it on. Apple puter."*) The shop in our library (yes, our library has a shop, like a museum) sells Elmo and Ernie dolls, but the library holds no Sesame Street books or DVDs, strangely.

One British television executive is quoted in the BBC piece as "The style of the programme is a tad out-dated - there are very few puppet shows around now. Perhaps LazyTown, but that's a very different tempo". Um/Erm, who cares? Does my toddler really need something with a faster tempo? Wouldn't it be nice to encourage a longer attention span in children? And what's wrong with puppets? Children go to bed at night with cuddly toys, not two-dimensional animations.

Unlike in the rest of the UK, Sesame is enjoying a renaissance in Northern Ireland, where a franchise version, Sesame Tree, is produced locally, with funding from several peace and reconciliation organi{s/z}ations.

I do wonder a bit if different preferences for children's literature and television in the two countries reflect different ideas about childhood. The things that I know and love from childhood are (orig. AmE) wacky. The characters are brash and outgoing. Americans in the 1950s had Howdy Doody, but the British had the Flower Pot Men on Watch with Mother. The British program(me)s seem to have a lot more narration than American ones, which seem to have more direct interaction between characters and children. From the Flower Pot Men to Clangers to the Teletubbies, there are many British children's television characters who don't speak in discernible language, whereas American children's television is extremely focused on verbal humo(u)r (click on any of the Sesame Street or Howdy Doody links above). Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to these generali{s/z}ations, but they stand out when I reflect on the children's television that adults talk about.

I was prompted to think about this even more after I posted a status update to Facebook yesterday, in which I proclaimed (too hastily) that there should be a law that all children's picture books should rhyme. I take that back, but I will say that any children's book with text is not a very good one if there isn't some joy to be found in the use of language. An American friend in Japan responded that:
A British friend of mine in Japan HATES Dr. Seuss, and says his kids didn't like it either. Sounds like a blog topic to me....
So here we are. First thing to note about Dr. Seuss is that the British tend to pronounce it as Doctor [sju:s] or sometimes even Doctor [zju:s] (we've looked at the reason behind that before), whereas for Americans, it's Doctor [su:s]. But after that point has been made, there are certainly lots of people in the UK who like Dr Seuss, but, like my friend in Japan, I've heard British people say he's overrated (and have never heard an American fault the stories--though not everyone loves his drawing style). And I do wonder whether that is because Americans are looking for brash humo(u)r and language play in their children's stories, while the British are looking for calm and comfort.

I expect that this is the type of topic that's going to touch nostalgic nerves, so fire away! I'm in the (AmE) home stretch before a big deadline, so please excuse me if I go a bit quiet for the next couple of weeks. I hope I've given you plenty to talk among(st) yourselves about.

*An aside: It's a little scary how many brand logos Grover already knows before the age of two. We're not (BrE) label-Mabels, and she doesn't watch commercial television, but having flown on Delta four months ago, she still points at triangle-chevron-type things and says "Airplane!" We were in a cafe the other week and she was pointing out the window saying what sounded to me like "Books, books!" Then I reali{s/z}ed it wasn't books but Boots--she knows the logo and the name of the (BrE) chemist's/(AmE) drug store chain where we buy her nappies/diapers. Today she went to the door with glee, exclaiming "Ocado man!" (Indeed, it was.) And pointed at their logo with interest, saying "Ball". Of course, she's learn{ed/t} the Sesame Street brand too, not to mention Maisy, Charlie and Lola, and Miffy, which are brands of a type too. The most embarrassing thing is when she sees the Coca-Cola logo and says "Mummy". I really thought I'd hidden that dirty habit.


  1. I can't find it know, but I read something about how UK animators were facing a decline, and I wonder if the dismissal of puppets is part of the same trend.

    "Hating" Dr. Suess just ain't right. I wonder if the people who think this have seen his non-children stuff?

  2. Rich post, where to start?

    Perhaps because I shelved children's books, I don't have nostalgia, but Seuss still amuses me. I give parent friends the They Might Be Giants CDs, which feels like Sesame Street filtered through a couple very original, and witty, musicians over 40 years.

    The first word I could proudly spell was BAR. Well, it was all around, in neon, in 1968 Detroit. And my parents didn't drink.

  3. Ironically, Sesame Street was criticized in the beginning for being too fast paced.

  4. I don't think I've ever watched Sesame Street. Funny thing is I used to watch The Muppets a lot. I remember watching a UK children's show called Rainbow a lot.

  5. I learnt the alphabet song with zee instead of zed at the end, possibly from Sesame Street. This was just one of the show's many interesting American things we didn't have in Ireland, along with huge yellow school buses, black people, and speaking Spanish.

    The "double-u, ex, wye and zed" ending still sounds wrong to me. But we had a [spoken] coda which reasserts the usual pronunciation:
    "ex, wye, zed,
    sugar on your bread,
    porridge in the morning,
    cocoa going to bed"

  6. I'm so glad to hear that Sesame Street is still be watched and enjoyed by children, and that there are parents that despise these new-fangled shows that mostly serve just to mesmerize the child instead of actually teaching them something.

    I'm even more glad to hear that the classic segments that I grew up with are still involved in that process. :)

  7. All that logo stuff? It's a reading precursor. Grover is on her way to reading. Do y'all have Dr. Seuss' ABC book? Aunt Annie's alligator, A,a,a.

    Oh, and if you like making up the last verse, teach her tie ZYX song, and look for something to rhyme with "exes".

  8. While India Arie's version is lovely, check out the Grand Diva Patti Labelle tearing the ABC's up and inspiring kids all over the world ; )

  9. The ABC song on Sesame Street always sounded 'wrong' to me because of the tune. I learnt the alphabet to a faster-paced jig kind of rhythm:

    A-B C-D E-F G
    H-I J-K L-M;
    N-O P-Q
    R-S T-U
    Vee Dub-Ble-you ex why-zed
    (often with a slightly frowned-at enthusiastic "You're dead!" at the end)

    (Midlands, Uk)

  10. Btw, Grover's current obsession is Marilyn Horne's version of 'C is for Cookie'. "Lady! Cookie! Again!"

  11. Yet again you hit the nail smack on the head (give or take a tiny spelling thing -- surely "for naught", unless you're going to tell us it's "for nought" in AmE?). I think you're right about the difference in style between Br and Am kids' books of a generation ago -- the infamously boring, sexist and (already) dated "Peter and Jane" was standard fare when I was starting primary school in the early 70s, and my mother (a secondary-school teacher herself), frustrated with the lame and drab nature of what was then available (as well as the refusal of primary school to acknowledge the concept of a child who could already read when starting school) leavened the mix with some American books she found somewhere. Dr Seuss is the only one I can remember offhand but there were others. It seeme incredibly brash and anarchic, sometimes scarily so (what a craven little conformist I was -- I blame the British books). Also it contained exotic language and references that had to be explained. I clearly remember first learning of watermelons in one such picture-book, though I don't think I saw one in the flesh till I was in my twenties; I've only seen them in the UK in the last 10 years or so. There was a family of alligators in the story, again very foreign, even as exotic fauna: we'd have thought of them as crocodiles if the word hadn't been supplied.

    Sesame Street is a sad loss to the UK. I'm with the commenter who says "We did not "fall out of love" with Sesame Street. Broadcasters who thought they knew better than us took it away from our children." We didn't have telly but saw it at other people's houses, and I became addicted to it as an adult. I remember it was still bilingual in those days, the same sketch being occasionally repeated in Spanish. A magnificent programme, the least condescending or politically correct kids' TV I've even come across, quite comfortable making highbrow adult asides to the parents without spoiling the story. Contrast Tellytubbies -- banal, moronic, slightly creepy -- yuk.

  12. Sorry, just noticed you labelled "for nought" as BrE, so my comment was a banal and moronic as a Tellytubby, though I stand by the spelling point!

  13. @Harry: I actually looked up n{a/o}ught in the OED while writing, and it just gave them as variants of each other, so I went with the first one I'd written. Thanks for the observation!

  14. OK, I retract! Seems I was too dogmatic, doubtless "for nought" is OK too, though to judge from a quick google "for naught" is more typical. I realise of course that they're essentially the same word, but to me nought usually means zero. Which can be spelt/spelled "naught" in AmE apparently? Sorry for bringing up this off-topic distraction.

  15. I've often thought that the entertainment of our American childhood was steeped in psychodelia. Sid and Marty Kroft always denied using acid, but Frank Oz grew up in Oakland and went to college in the 60's; I think it was his influence that brought out Henson's crazier humor.

    But then I stop and consider that Henson, Dr. Suess, and the Krofts were very much in the tradition of "Alice in Wonderland", which had been favorite for a century. Did "Alice" go out of favor in post-war England? Was that sort of entertainment considered vulgar by the BBC?

  16. @Harry: for me, "nought" means zero (number or digit); "naught" is an archaic word for "not any", just as "aught" is "any". I suppose this is more than a personal idiosyncrasy, but less than a widespread convention. Some people even spell "aught" as "ought".

    I also read and enjoyed a goodly number of Seuss books, including two Cat in the Hat books and Green Eggs and Ham. However, I had never heard of the Christmas Grinch till I was at college; and my spell-checker underlines him.

  17. One could argue (actually someone does) that the lack of discernible language "provides a framework in which to discuss several questions concerning the philosophy of language." Hmm, or then again, maybe not.

  18. I'd agree on the cultural differences thing, having been brought up on a diet of the Peter and Jane type stuff Harry mentioned I remember finding Sesame Street too scary as it was so loud - my favourite was a programme called Button Moon and I can still remember the song.

    Slightly off topic - but I noticed your ref to Grover's American Papa - so, do you use 'Papa' as a variant of 'Grandpa'?

  19. @Helen: In my family, yes, Papa is grandpa. My dad inherited that mantle from his dad who was my papa. But these things are very sensitive to regional/generational/ethnic/family variations.

    I will do a post on that someday, though I have a feeling we hit on it in the comments at some earlier point...or perhaps it was an American Dialect Society list any rate, will get back to it, so let's not do it here.

  20. I'm not at all familiar with current children's television programmes (are commentators supposed to use bilingual markup whenever a word such as "programme/program" occurs ?) but the one programme that absolutely stands out in my memory (and which I watched for the first time long long after my childhood had finished) was "The Magic Roundabout". Now that, for me, was the stuff that dreams are made of.

  21. I learnt to chant the alphabet slightly differently to Badger:

    H-I-J-K-LMNOP (faster)
    Double-you, ex, why, zed!

    And then backwards (my father insisted):

    Z-Y-X and W-V
    U-T-S and R-Q-P
    N-M-L and K-J
    I-H-G, F-E-D and C-B-A.

  22. @AlmostAmerican: I think there's a qualitative difference between the Moe Williams book and what we're talking about here. In that, the baby says something and fails to be understood. The baby is attempting to speak English and is successful at it later. But in the things I cited, the creatures are supposed to be communicating with each other successfully. They almost say "language isn't important; it's just random noises" (for I think you won't find a grammar in Clanger-speak, no matter how hard you try), whereas the book you cite is about how important language is and striving to communicate with your audience.

  23. Great post. I also posted last week about Sesame Street; I'm British but grew up in Hong Kong where it was on every day, and it had a big influence on me.

    Also interesting to read about Grover picking up British words. I'm now living in the US and my little boys are picking up new Americanisms every day from their preschool.....

  24. From what I heard somewhere, and it's in Wikipedia so it must be true... , Oliver Postgate wrote the Clangers with a full English script that the whistles were meant to convey.

  25. The alphabets I learned were identical to those reported by Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth), modulo what I suspect is an accidental error in her reporting of the backwards version, which omits the "O". Thus my backwards one ran :

    Z-Y-X and W-V
    U-T-S and R-Q-P
    O-N-M and L-K-J
    I-H-G, F-E-D and C-B-A.

    It would be interesting to learn if this was the "local" version : for reference, I was born and raised in the Eltham (London, SE9) area.

  26. What an excellent post. Our wee bloke (half Scottish, half American) is 3, and despite having only been in the States as a permanent resident for a few weeks, his ladybirds have already become bugs and his chips have morphed into French Fries (ahem, on the rare occasion he eats them, you understand).
    As regards Sesame Street, it really is a fantastic programme - wee bloke loves it, and it's just a pity he wasn't able to see it on TV back home. His only complaint about the telly in the U.S. is dubbing-based: 'Why does Bob the Builder/Thomas/Roary the Racing Car speak funny here, Daddy?' :)

  27. @chaos006 Der/duh..... sorry, lack of brain yesterday, you are quite right! I don't know if it is regional - I'm Sussex-bred, as is my father who taught me the chant many years ago.

  28. I do know of some Americans who have reservations about Dr. Seuss. They tend to object to the high 'nonsense-word' content, prefering that children spend their time and energy learning 'real' words.

    I personally don't think the nonsense is a problem - it's creative, and there is plenty of value in the books, especially if children aren't limited to one author. Actually, Seuss should probably be seen as prerequisite to Roald Dahl...

  29. I do think Dr Seuss can be difficult for very smalls to identify with. Certainly my niece, a reluctant eater, couldn't identify with "Green eggs and ham", no matter how much she was like the character in that!

  30. I'll come out of the closet: I'm an American and I don't like Dr. Suess. He leaves me cold. The ugly drawings, the callous characters . . . The only Suess thing I remember with fondness is the animated Grinch special. (I've never heard anyone object to the nonsense words on pedagogical grounds, but Suess's nonsense often seems to be trying too hard. Just not that funny.)

    There, I said it. I expect to be chased by an angry mob shortly.

  31. I can't imagine a childhood without Sesame Street.

    I will stop there because any elaboration would probably take up all of the comment space available.

  32. The Clangers indeed speak English in whistle tones. Once you get your ear in, you can make out what they say surprisingly often. The Soup Dragon and Iron Chicken also speak English, but are harder to understand.

    If I remember correctly, the Teletubbies are supposed to be at the same general linguistic level as their target audience (pre- or early language use).

    The linguistic rules of In The Night Garden are stranger. Igglepiggle is mute, and the tiny Pontipines basically twitter. The Tombliboos can only say "Tombliboo" and their own names (Unn, Ooo, Eee). Makka Pakka and Upsy Daisy can say any word that appears in their own theme songs. There's a lot more verbal play in the Night Garden than in the comparatively staid Teletubbies.

    I like 'em all, and I don't have the excuse of a child in the house! My current favourite character is Makka Pakka.

  33. FWIW, I strongly support the nonsense words in Seuss; nonsense is one way to teach (or test) decoding instead of sight-reading words.

    That said, I'm a bit put off by the preachiness of some of the books. ("The Lorax" does, though, work fairly well as a teaching tool for the "Tragedy of the Commons". 8-) )

  34. So pleased to have been directed to your blog by my American friends on Twitter, @nextmoon and @fritnancy - we were just talking about this stuff at the weekend.

    I'm your generation, 44 next year, and Sesame Street taught me German... We lived in Singapore until I was 5 (where Sesame Street and the much more raucus Banana Splits were popular) then moved to Germany. The getmans dubbed Sesame Street (very convincingly) into German, and we saw the same episodes... Funnily enough, Kermit was dubbed by the VoiceOver artist who also did Jerry Lewis which was a bit strange.

    My son is now 5 and has spent a year in a UK primary school where they have recently 'discovered' research that children are more likely to want to read if books are colourful, interesting and funny. Naturally I started him on Dr Seuss at about six months!

  35. Ladybirds are still ladybugs in our house (two years after we moved back to Australia from the USA), and biscuits are still cookies! But that's because they're words that I still use myself - the girls are more inclined to use the same words as their friends use.

    Sesame Street is still going strong in Australia - all my girls love (or have loved) it. I remember watching it as a child, and grew up knowing that "in America, they say zee." My girls are also aware of this distinction, although I have encountered several Australians who say "zee" and have never heard of "zed" (too much watching of American television programs, I think!).

    A funny distinction my eldest daughter used to make: we use cloth nappies/diapers, and all our friends used disposable. Of course, being American, they called these "diapers" and, being Australian, I called ours "nappies". So my daughter just assumed that the distinction between diaper vs nappy was what they were made of!!!

  36. @Robbie I'm glad I didn't know as a child that the Clangers were supposed to be speaking English. I was quite happy to accept that they were speaking a different language. On the other hand I deeply loathed Donald Duck, Micky Mouse et al. as a child because I found it so difficult to make out what they were saying much of the time.

  37. @Robbie - doesn't everybody like the Makka Pakka?! I love In the Night Garden, although I, too, no longer have a child at home, and do not yet have a grandchild to share it with.

  38. I was at the Sesame Street in the 80s and I remember they showed it on Channel 4. I never really liked it much at the time although I'm not sure why. I just remember feeling terribly bored during the non-puppet segments with the horrible childrens' voiceovers.

    I never took to Dr Seuss either, but then I think I'd filled up on nonesense rhyme through my Dad's love of Spike Milligan.

  39. I learned the same alphabet song as Badger
    AB CD
    NO PQ
    RS TU

    Sung as fast as possible.

    I only got to watch Sesame Street after I was old enough to realise they were American, and therefore didn't speak the same as I did. Never read Dr Seuss.

  40. I had a childhood without Sesame Street. I was already an adult 40 years ago when they started. My daughter, however, loved Elmo's World when she was little.
    And, I am called Papa by my daughter.
    While I don't hate Dr. Suess, I also never really liked it, either. I'm not sure whether it was the nonsense words or I just didn't care for the stories. So, I didn't read them to my daughter. She did enjoy the animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
    For what it's worth, I'm from California.

  41. As those of you have written out the alphabet song(s), I realize why zed sounds odd, not just because I'm American and we say zee, but also because it doesn't rhyme with G and P and V which come at the end of each line of the verse. The backwards song seems to work somewhat because A rhymes with J.

    We didn't do Sesame Street with our kids (now 7 and 4). We spent a month in a hotel as refugees of a city plumbing project during which time we did watch more tv than usual, including Sesame Street. But I was disappointed. Elmo's voice grates on my nerves and I didn't find it as satisfying as I recalled it was when I was growing up. I got DVDs of the old shows- for me more than the kids. (The beginning song makes me cry in those - seventies inner city, kids running, following big bird and playing in a park.) I've enjoyed some of the youtube bits and the kids have watched the counting and alphabet videos (old, too) many times (as we own the vhs).

    The Dr. Seuss' books doesn't interest me too much either, though I recall learning to read with them. I have a distinct memory of my mother from the front seat giving me a hint that the word I was sounding out rhymed with the word at the end of the line before it. Any rhyming verse for children is good that way. I often leave the rhyming word out when I'm reading to them to have them fill it in. Bill Peet is another author from that era with great rhyming and long stories with similar moralizing. Maybe it is the nonsense words of Dr. Seuss. Or maybe the repetition which I find tedious. I like the sentiment in many of them though - (In the book about The Sneetches for instance and Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches an Egg.) Actually, I really like that last one quite a bit.

  42. "books don't" not "books doesn't". Sorry didn't preview.

  43. I'm so sorry. The word verification kept telling me I wasn't spelling the word right (even though I was) and appeared to be not publishing it. So sorry. Can you erase the repeats?

  44. Oh, and puppets are awesome! No way around it. They will never go out of favor with kids. Something else I like a great deal (and I believe kids do too) that we don't see so much of these days anymore, either, is claymation. (I believe it's called something else in BrE.) Both puppets and claymation are time consuming and dying arts because of it, I worry.
    [Okay, I'll stop monopolizing the thread, now.]

  45. Well, I'm British, and born in the late 1950s, and I loved Dr Seuss when I was a kid. And still do.

    The TV programme of my preschool childhood was "Watch with Mother" with a different puppet show each weekday - if I remember correctly (I refuse to look it up) it was Picture Book on Monday, Andy Pandy on Tuesday (nowadays unwatchably twee), Bill and Ben on Wednesday (surely as freaky as anything in Sesame Street?), Rag, Tag and Bobtail on Thursday (my favourite), and The Woodentops on Friday (a bit of a let-down)

    Later on, in the mid and late 1960s, we had all sorts of wonderful shows in the just-before-the-news slot, presumably intended for kids who'd just come home from school ands were waiting for their tea. The Magic Roundabout was the classic that defined the slot, though the Postgate/Firmin ones were probably the best - as to whether Noggin the Nog or the Clangers was the best of the best, that argument will never be settled.

    On the grounds of those observations I think I reject the hypothesis that the British shows were more comforting and less anarchic than the US ones! The Postgate stuff is practically anarchist propaganda - and to anyone over the age of about 13 "The Magic Roundabout" is as stoned as Woodstock.

    As well as "The Magic Roundabout" there were other coninental imports with English voice-over commentary (and it was usually commentary, neither dubbing nor subtitles) "The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe" is probaby the best known but I also remember "Belle and Sebastian" and the wonderful "Singing, Ringing Tree" which defines a whole new level of weird. I mean we are talking weird as in Grimm's tales rewritten by HP Lovecraft and filmed in a 1920s German Expressionist style.

    While my daughter was a child the most popular British author of childrens books was probably Roald Dahl. We hear rumours of him being banned in some US schools as too violent and anti-authoritarian. I don't remember anyone trying that here.

  46. @Ken Brown: I don't on the links for the flowerpot men (aka Bill and Ben) and Clangers, which will take you to videos of them. Neither is what I would term anarchic--in fact, 'unbearably slow' is the term that comes to mind for the flowerpot men! And both illustrate the non-language and narration points. The narration makes them seem like being read a book with moving pictures.

  47. Yes, British children's telly hasn't always been boring or conventional, but that's nothing to do with the style of presentation. Magic Roundabout may be a bit surreal or duggy or anti-authoritarian, but never brash or loud or in-your-face in the style of Sesame Street (or Dr Seuss).

  48. Ahem. I meant druggy not "duggy" of course. Sory.

  49. I think the "non-language" (which isn't non-language its distorted English in both shows) is part of the fun, an in joke, something the grown-ups don't get (though of course they do really)

    Bill & Ben, the Magic Roundabout, and the Clangers are all very *silly* They're from the same universe as the Goons and Monty Python. They are fantastical and surrealistic. By comparison a lot of US shows seem rather mundane to me. I don't think Howdy-Doody was ever shown here (presumably its all that product placement) but I have now experienced abut fifteen or twenty minutes of it - the first four or five hits on YouTube, so I'm *obviously* an expert! Compared with the British shows it looks very *straight*, normal, adult.

    Of course we're not comparing like with like here - a 1950s show that seems to be aimed at maybe ages 5-8, with 1960s shows targeted at preschcool age like Watch with Mother. The pre-news slot seemed to aim at a wider spread of audience, and both the Clangers and the Magic Roundabout supposedly had some teenage and adult following. Like the Tellytubbies much later they are rumoured to go well with certain small pills.

    There's a difference between shows which feature children under adult supervision, and those in which the kids (or the puppets or cartoons or aliens the kids are identifying with) are in a world of their own. The conceit of "Bill and Ben" or even "Andy Pandy" is that its about the things chidren get up to when the adults aren't watching (the adults of course know that they are watching which is what makes it safe...)

    By contrast, Howdy-Doody (or the tiny bits of it I just watched) features rows of well-dressed kids singing songs and shouting slogans. Its like an extension of school. Its regimented. The nearest equivalent to that in British 1950s & 1960s TV might have been "Crackerjack" but that was much rowdier and naughtier I think. And also sillier. Later on, if I remember correctly, the kids got to attack the presenters with custard pies and water pistols... a theme that carried on into the 1970s and 1980s Saturday morning TV programs like Tiswas and the rather tamer Swap Shop - but I've never watched those, not being a Saturday morning sort of person.

    I assume that had I seen Howdy-Doody when I was a child I wouldn't have noticed that the puppet resembles Ronald Reagan so much...

    As for narration, what's wrong with that?

  50. I was way out of the Sesame Street demographic, yet I watched Sesame Street.

  51. 1. Way, way, waaaaaay up there - a spelling error. Mo Willams. No E in the first name, and only one I in the last name. Also, for the record, the K in Knuffle should probably be pronounced, although Willams himself has gone on record as saying that if you're confused you can just buy two copies of the book....

    1a. Also, Mo Willams is pretty close to brilliant, and his Elephant and Piggie series is probably the best easy reader series being published today. (I know adults who have bought them for themselves!) (They also work well to read to preschoolers, them and the Pigeon books.)

    1b. I'm not paid to say this.

  52. Lynneguist - I agree with the distinction you make between the language use in the Clangers and in Knuffle Bunny. BTW, I didn't write the article I linked to.

    Conuly - did you know Mo Willems (yes, my spelling of the name is correct) has released DVDs of some of his stories now? We saw a 'draft' version of Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus! last year when he spoke at the Eric Carle Museum.

  53. Sorry for misspelling (from memory). For the record, I love Don't let the pigeon drive the bus! But the most important thing about Willems is that he's been a writer for Sesame Street!

  54. Oh, you're right, I did spell it wrong. I was so busy correcting Williams I forgot that I still had an A in there! D'oh!

    No, I didn't know that - I have to get some now now now! (I have to find out next time he'll be in the city and bring my nieces to see him read again. Last time he signed their books and it took me two days to realize he wrote Mo! and not No! and I felt kinda silly when it made sense.)

    Lynnquist, you wouldn't happen to have a copy of The Important Book, would you?

  55. @conuly: No, I don't have that.

    But after our spelling conversation, I feel I must point out that I have an 'e' and a 'g' not a 'q'! (It's a pun, donchaknow.)

  56. Ohhh- Lynne...Guist...linguist. I get it! Clever.

    Well for the record I always hated sesame Street, it was too raucaus and American for me, even before I'd been programmed into cultural snobbery. I especially hated the way they said 'zee'.

    I've always found Seuss atoundingly overrated too (though I did have a soft spot for Hop On Pop) As a former bookseller, specialising in children's and young adult's fiction, I can assure everyone that there is a wealth of superior verse and storytelling out there. Case in point- Where the Wild Things Are the live action remake of which I await with trepidation.

    I'm too young for the Clangers and I haven't heard of most of the other stuff (sorry) but we definitely had pupperts during my 'preschool' years. (Late eighties if you really must know) Not least on the redoubtable Playdays, one of the most respected and enduring under-fives edutainment series of British boradcasting history. The was Lizzie and Why-Bird and Poppy the Cat and Peggy Patch. I could read by the time I started nursery, despite occasionally getting the alphabet in the wrong order, so they (or perhaps my mother) must have been doing something right.

    We learnt to read with the 'Magic Key' series when I was that age and I believe they're still knocking about nearly twenty years later, so ther must be something in that too.

    As for the decline in puppets (on television, they're certainly still about in xhildren's theatre) is mayhap a causal effect of a decline in pupeteers? Just a thought.

  57. Having just watched that Sesame Street clip, I'd like to add utter disgust at children's characters who refer to themselves in the third person. It's bad and wrong and probably unhygenic.

    P.S. What's wrong with Thomas the Tank anyway?

  58. My older son, now seven, had trouble articulating words, making sounds and being understood when he was little. We did sign language with him from when he was an infant, and he had a huge vocabulary, just no one could understand him when he talked (using his voice). All his problems were resolved when he was three and took three months of speech therapy. It impressed me that the therapist first had him pay attention to her mouth, to watch her mouth and to try to repeat the sounds. He didn't watch TOO much television when he was so little, but he did watch some - Little Bear and Thomas the Tank Engine. But after hearing that the therapist wanted him to watch her mouth- how important this was, and after hearing that many children learn English through Sesame Street, - well, I guess it's for older children who already make the right sounds, but I wondered what affect learning to make English sounds by watching a puppets mouth - or any animated thing or Thom. the Tank in which only facial expressions are shown, you don't actually see them speaking- would be somehow misleading.

    Where does Postman Pat fall in any of this? Picked up a few videos of this. Like the claymation- should watch it again to pay more attention to the language.

  59. Well, I fess up to missing the -e, but q and g look identical when underlined, and your name is *always* underlined as a link so... uh... it's not my fault, nyah nyah!


    At any rate, I've fallen prey to one of the world's classic blunders, just slightly less well-known than that one about Sicilians - never correct somebody else's spelling without using spellcheck!

  60. Have people seen this?

    Apologies if it's already been linked to and sorry I don't know how to make links in HTML. I'm working on it...

  61. Maggie - your children are safe from the evil Sesame Street! No-one much under the age of a university linguistics student learns how to make the sounds of their own language by watching mouths. Certainly not TV puppet mouths. Really. Even if that's what the speech therapist thought was happening.

    And people in general, why all this denigration of the absolutely wonderful fantastic Dr Seuss? A hero of modern culture! Everyone should read him, at least once a year. We should all keep the 24th September as Green Eggs and Ham Day and eat green eggs and ham and wash it down with a decent G&T :-)

    1. Came across this just now, many years later. But this comment spoke to me and no mistake.
      Learning language by watching mouths... sure I did! Being hard of hearing and getting worse in the course of my life, lip-reading was invaluable to my understanding. And I got hugely frustrated by watching TV puppet mouths, who did say nothing but Wah-Wah-Wah to me. (Go look at them and try lip-reading them yourself, for God's sake.)

  62. "Now I know my Z-Y-Xes / Backwards like they sing in Texas."

  63. I forgot to say earlier, where I grew up (SW Lancashire with Wirral parents) it was Peep-o not peebo. I think Peep-o describes the action rather better...

  64. As in peekaboo? I was wondering. I thought it was some kind of euphemism...

  65. And before TV there was radio! British children in the 1950s had 'Listen with Mother', a 15-minute programme which began with a 'Din-de-don' tune - what we would now call a jingle, followed by the words 'Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin'. The programme contained a little story, and one or more nursery rhymes sung by trained singers. It was all very genteel and comforting - cultured tones and lovely diction. There was also a snippet of a piano piece that always takes me back to those days - Debussy's 'Berceuse' I think.

    'Sesame Street' has the winning formula of a cast of characters that can have different prominence in each episode - much like any soap opera for adults, from Coronation Street to Wisteria Lane.

    An early comment from eclexia refers to Alice in Wonderland as 'vulgar'. This mystifies me. The whole book, and its sequel, is based on pastiches of Victorian songs and rhymes, and like Dr Seuss, would have entertained the adult reader as much as the child.

    Is anyone familiar with the British Ladybird Books? These are a small-format hardback series - poetry, early readers, traditional tales, guides to places and towns, how-to-make things. The Charles and Diana wedding special was a bold venture at the time. The illustrations were criticised for being too cosy and too 'white', but older editions give a very accurate picture of British middle-class life at the time they were published. Reading a selection to our little daughter certainly provided a nostalgic experience when we lived in North America twenty-thirty years ago. Having said all that, I don't know whether they are still for sale - grandson still too small to read ... Grover may like them.

  66. Ladybirds are still about, though the range is dramatically depleted. Hopefully you'll be pleased to know they're a little more deverse in representation now too.

  67. I loved Sesame Street, and am very sad it no longer gets shown here.

    You might find In the Night Garden easier to get into if you approach it differently to Sesame Street: Night Garden isn't supposed to be an exciting, bouncy watch. The whole programme is design to calm children down ready to go to sleep. It's like a bedtime story. That's why it has that little repeating tune rocking away in the background all the way through, coming in and fading out, being sung as Iggle Piggle's tune.

    In contrast, my tame 2-year-old (a few weeks older than Grover) bounces around if Thomas the Tank Engine is on, pointing and dancing and 'discussing' and matching the trains on-screen to the toys. He'll happily take an afternoon nap to In the Night Garden (mostly).

  68. I'm a Yankee (BrE). Sesame Street is good, but it gets old fast. My 3½ year old is through with it and on to some other great PBS shows. See if you can get on and get a preview. Some of her favorites: Between the Lions, Dinosaur Train, and Sid the Science Kid. The last two are new in the last two years.

  69. I also hate Dr Suess! I found them weird and alien as a child.

    I also wasn't so keen on Sesame Street, which was very loud and brash and brightly coloured.

    I grew up on English nursery rhymes. On tv, I liked playschool, bagpuss, button moon, the magic roundabout. Later I loved Tony Hart's Hartbeat and animations such as the French "Mysterious Cities of Gold" and "Ulysses 31".

    Strangely enough, the one US import I was obsessed with as a child was Scooby-Doo.

    I think you are correct about the differences - I was brought up on gentler things I suppose. I hated Roald Dahl as a child too, and preferred reading things like the Narnia series and Enid Blyton.

    As for the Alphabet, my Grandma, born in 1903, taught me as follows:

    she banged her head
    and if you don't pick her up
    she'll have to go to bed.

    My Grandma also used to sing me lots of songs like "Jack and Jill", "Billy-boy", "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do" etc, and quite a few music hall songs like "when father papered the parlour" and "my Grandfather's clock".

    I was born in 1979.

  70. American here. Interesting that you are familiar with Sesame Street but you named your female child Grover? Does everyone you meet assume "Grover" is a boy's name? They would in the United States - there are an abundance of male "-er" sounding names: Hunter, Tanner, Connor, Tyler, Skylar, Gunner (not to mention we had a President Grover Cleveland...) but the only female -er name I can think of is Jennifer. (Amber doesn't count!)

  71. Colin, I don't put my child's real name on the web. When she was introduced on the blog, I explained why her nickname is Grover.

    Nevertheless, I've received rather abusive emails from people who've not got the whole story for being so cruel as to give my girl a 'boy's name'! To me, the bigger ethical no-no is putting one's minor child's real name on the web.

  72. Son2 has just discovered Dr Seuss - I'm quite happy with the nonsense words, illustrations etc but I don't like reading the ones where the rhymes don't work in RP (e.g. pass/alas or lance/chance/pants).

  73. Quoth biochemist:
    There was also a snippet of a piano piece that always takes me back to those days - Debussy's 'Berceuse' I think.

    The Berceuse from the Dolly Suite by Fauré (not Debussy). Even after all these yaesr I go weak at the knees when I hear it.

    Daughter and I are both Postgate fans. I adored Noggin the Nog when I was little: she loved Bagpuss and Ivor the Engine.

  74. Oh, Bagpuss.... I loved him when my daughter was growing up. I date back to the era of Andy Pandy and the Flowerpot Men - and, of course, Listen with Mother.

    My grandson is now 2 and adores Thomas the Tank Engine AND In the Night Garden, especially Iggle Piggle! And recognises far too many other CBeebies characters! ("But he is two now," said my daughter, "So it's all right to let him watch television" But he's been watching since he was very small!).

  75. I just couldn't resist looking up this older post to make a comment when the same thing just happened to me;

    In our (western Canadian) house my 2.5 year old has become addicted to Peppa Pig, he watches it on youtube ("I want Peppa Pig, pleeeeeease! On Mama's computer, Peppa Pig!")

    And now he has added a few words to his vocabulary in the BrE dialect of the Pig family, it was really obvious to me when he started saying 'riva' (river), asking if we could "Go to the riva, pleeeeease?"

    Which is utterly unlike how people around here pronounce the word.

  76. So how do people in western Canada pronounce it?

    My grandsons are now just 5 and almost 2; the older boy has had crazes on all sorts of CBeebies programmes, although I've lost track of what he likes now. Mostly the learn-to-read ones, now he is beginning to read, I think. The younger is still at the "In the Night Garden" stage, but they both enjoy Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig and Chuggington....

  77. I don't have the skills to fully portray word pronunciation in type, but generally around here (western Canada) 'river' is pronounced with the final r quite clearly making an r sound. Like a very short growl.


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