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AMERICAN MOSAIC - 'Sesame Street' Turns 40 Years Old

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HOST:

Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

(MUSIC)

I'm Doug Johnson.

Today, we take a virtual walk down a famous street found in almost every land on the planet... the children's television show "Sesame Street" turns forty years old.

(MUSIC)

HOST:

More than forty years ago, a group of television educators, child development experts and artists gathered to develop a revolutionary television program. Their goal was to make a television show that would teach young children about subjects like reading and math in a way that was entertaining and fun to watch. The show was also aimed at providing children from low-income families with additional preparation for school.

(MUSIC)

"Sesame Street" was first broadcast on November tenth, nineteen sixty-nine. It was produced by a non-profit group called The Children's Television Workshop, today called The Sesame Workshop. Money for developing the program came from private foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the United States government.

The show combines animation, music, large puppets and human actors to create a series of funny and creative lessons. Some of the most famous characters on the show include Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, and Bert and Ernie. Puppet maker Jim Henson created these loveable and funny characters.

Research is an important part of what made "Sesame Street" special. The show's creators studied the children they were targeting very carefully to understand how to best keep them entertained -- and learning.

When the show first aired, some of its creators were not sure it would last one season. But forty years later, "Sesame Street" is the longest running children's television program in the United States.

(MUSIC)

Michelle Obama on
Michelle Obama on "Sesame Street"

As part of its forty year anniversary, "Sesame Street" had an extra special guest on its show. First Lady Michelle Obama showed a group of children and Big Bird how to plant seeds. She explained that the seeds would grow into vegetables, which are a healthy and good to eat.

MICHELLE OBAMA: "Hi Everyone!We are here digging up soil, because we are about to plant a garden."

ELMO: "Yeah! So we can grow our very own food.

MICHELLE OBAMA: "Right. We're planting vegetables like these right here."

Michelle Obama also had a message to the many parents who watch the show with their children. She said parents can help their children do things to have healthy lives, like getting enough exercise.

ELMO: "Yay Exercise!"

MICHELLE OBAMA: "If you want your child to have healthy habits, practice healthy habits too because you're your child's best role model."

There have been many other famous guests on the show throughout the years. Some recent ones include singer Norah Jones, actress Sarah Jessica Parker and reporter Anderson Cooper.

(MUSIC)

Today, versions of "Sesame Street" are broadcast in more than one hundred twenty-five countries. And "Sesame Street" has worked hard to deal with important issues. In two thousand two, a puppet named Kami appeared on the South African version of "Sesame Street" which is called "Takalani Sesame."

Kami
Kami

Kami is known as the first HIV positive puppet. The aim of this puppet is to teach about the spread of AIDS in the country. This is not a subject that many media programs have tried to explain to very small children. In South Africa, over five million people have the virus, including hundreds of thousands of children. So, the Kami puppet was created to help change social beliefs about AIDS and inform people about the virus.

In Egypt, "Sesame Street" is called "Alam Simsim." The program has a female puppet called Khokha. She loves learning and is always asking questions.

She was created to be a role model for Egyptian girls. She expresses the importance of girls going to school and working hard to learn.

More recently, "Sesame Street" launched a version of the show in Northern Ireland called "Sesame Tree." The show has two characters, Potto and Hilda. It takes place in a large hollow tree. The show aims to teach children about acceptance and respect.

This month, visitors to Union Station in Washington, D.C. could learn more about the different versions of "Sesame Street" around the world at a special exhibit. The picture exhibit helps explain the cultural differences behind "Sesame Street"s many productions.

The words of one of "Sesame Street"s creators are written on one of the images. They explain the goals of the show. Joan Ganz Cooney says that "Sesame Street" producers do not pretend that a television show can solve the problems of the world. But she says they believe it would be a terrible mistake not to use these influential tools to contribute to the answers.

We asked one person at the exhibit what he remembers most about "Sesame Street."

MORI DIANE: "It helped teach me how to count and read. And I also loved how they integrated the human characters with the Muppet characters. It kind of helped me live in a fantasy world as a child."

Another person we spoke to had a different experience.

MISHKA MUKHERJI: "I didn't really think about it as an educational program, I just really fell in love with the characters. My parents always tell me that I loved Big Bird."

(MUSIC)

No program about "Sesame Street" would be complete without presenting some of its most famous songs. Here is Mario Ritter with more.

(MUSIC)

Johnny Cash and Oscar the Grouch
Johnny Cash and Oscar the Grouch

MARIO RITTER:

That was "I Love Trash" sung by the ever unhappy green creature, Oscar the Grouch. Sometimes "Sesame Street" characters sing by themselves. Other times, famous performers sing with them. For example, here is Johnny Cash and Oscar the Grouch singing "Nasty Dan."

(MUSIC)

Many of the songs have an educational message. Here the group "Hootie and the Blowfish" sings with Elmo. They tell children about the importance of holding an adult's hand to cross the street.

(MUSIC)

The hip-hop group the Fugees has also performed on "Sesame Street." Here is "Just Happy to Be Me."

(MUSIC)

We leave you with another favorite by a character who appeared on the first episode of "Sesame Street." Here is Kermit the Frog singing "Bein' Green."

(MUSIC)

HOST:

I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written and produced by Dana Demange. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, go to www.unsv.com. You can also comment on our programs.

Do you have a question about people, places or things in America? Send it to mosaic@voanews.com and we may answer it on this show.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.

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