Monday, November 22, 2010

Can You Tell Me How to Get, How to Get to Shalom Sesame?

I had the pleasure of visiting Sesame Street last week.

No, I didn't take something or get food poisoning, I visited the Sesame Street Workshop in NYC for a screening of brand new episodes of everyone's favorite mesh of English and Hebrew and Israeli and American: Shalom Sesame! It was quite a trip, and I'm really wishing I had some little kids under my apron to share the awesomeness with, but, for now, I'll have to share it with y'all and play on your nostalgia and perhaps convince a few of you that the new Shalom Sesame will delight your own kids.

Photo op! Eeee!
The moment I stepped out of the elevator, I was struck by the color. It was a Crayola explosion, primary colors everywhere, and on the sconces in the elevator bay? All of the characters we love, like Elmo and Cookie Monster and Bert and Ernie. Our host came out and ushered me to a photo op with Oscar the Grouch (color me star struck), and then into the screen room with lots of yummy nosh from Our Most Favorite in NYC. The meal was complete with Sesame Street juice boxes, which made me feel nostalgically child-like. And then? The screening of an episode in which Grover learns Hebrew.

The new Shalom Sesame is a 12-part series, of which two of the DVDs are out, including a Chanukah episode (which was in our goodie bag upon leaving!). The entire series revolves around Anneliese van der Pol (of That's So Raven fame) and Grover heading off to Israel and their adventures in the land and on Rachov Sumsum. In the episode we screened, Grovery learns some of the basics like boker tov and mishpacha from his friends on the Rachov, and the events there are interspersed with cartoon clips on family, counting by none other than the Count, and a segment on the aleph-bet. Here's a preview of the first episode:

The characters are crossovers from the Israeli version of Sesame Street (Rachov Sumsum), but there are some new characters. Kippi, that gigantic porcupine, is no longer on Shalom Sesame, but there are characters like Avigail, Moshe Oofnik (the Israeli Oscar the Grouch), Brosh, and Mahboub. There's also a new cast of human characters, including Anneliese, Boris, Kobi, Lemlem, and Shoshana. I'd say that Shalom Sesame covered all their basis with that cast, as it appears to include American, Israeli, Ethiopian, and Russian Jews!

But I'm sure you're wondering what I thought, right? As someone with no kids but a box full of toys in her apartment so kids will come visit, I have to say that I really enjoyed the episode we screened, especially because in my Hebrew classes at UConn, we watched old Shalom Sesame episodes that were seriously outdated and needing revamping. I laughed -- a lot -- more than I thought I would, and so did most of the adults in the room. There were a few kids there, and they were bobbing along to the music and laughing at the funny moments just as much as the adults.

My only beef -- or question -- after viewing this episode and anticipating the rest is the presentation of the traditional family motif. I'll admit I really don't know how kids programming folks address this issue, but there was a segment on family and what makes up a family, which included both a segment with real people and a cartoon version (with some gnarly music with kids singing like 80s hairband stars). The songs presented used the, I have a father, a mother, and XX siblings -- the standard family unit -- as the basis for the song. There was a brief mention in both versions (human and cartoon) of a family with a grandmother, a mother, and the kid, but no single-parent households existed. No step-parents. No grandparents-only. No dad-only. I was really uncomfortable during this segment, and I'll be honest I'm not really sure why. My parents are still married, and I have two brothers. I am the "traditional," American family unit. But I know a lot -- a lot -- of people who come from the real traditional family unit nowadays: single parents raising several kids, grandparents raising kids, fathers raising kids, mothers raising kids, etc. What do you guys think -- should shows like Sesame Street give this more play?

After all, the point of this kind of programming is for kids to see themselves on the screen, right? To put themselves onto Rachov SumSum and in the shoes of Grover learning Hebrew!

But I don't want this to be heavy. I really really loved my time at Sesame Workshop, and the folks there were so warm and welcoming. I have to think that working in such a colorful environment must have to keep morale higher than a kite. I'm really excited to see the rest of the series, and, I'm also really excited to open up the Chanukah episode ... Tuvia and I are the kind of people who -- even at our age -- enjoy the simpler, child-like things in life. I mean, come on, I keep Super Grover in my car at all times, just in case, you know, I need a hero.

Stay tuned for more on Shalom Sesame, and be sure to keep checking back at their website for plenty of resources, games, and educational materials for kids, adults, and educators. You can purchase the first two episodes and pre-order the rest by clicking here. I'm really excited to see how educators and parents use the awesome tools that are coming up on the website, which should be launched soon enough. There are aleph-bet games, resources, e-cards, and more. I'll be sure to post when the website goes live, so stay tuned!