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One of the “Best Books” of the year from The Smithsonian, The Washington Independent Review, and more!
From bestselling writer David Kamp, the “fun, fascinating, and surprisingly touching,” (People) behind-the-scenes story of the cultural heroes who created the beloved children’s TV programs Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Free to Be…Youand Me, and Schoolhouse Rock!—which transformed American childhood for the better, teaching kids about diversity, the ABCs, and feminism through a fun, funky 1970s lens.
With a foreword by Questlove.
In 1970, on a soundstage on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a group of men, women, and Muppets of various ages and colors worked doggedly to finish the first season of a children’s TV program that was not yet assured a second season: Sesame Street. They were conducting an experiment to see if television could be used to better prepare disadvantaged preschoolers for kindergarten. What they didn’t know then was that they were starting a cultural revolution that would affect all American kids.
In Sunny Days, bestselling author David Kamp captures the unique political and social moment that gave us not only Sesame Street, but also Fred Rogers’s gentle yet brave Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; Marlo Thomas’s unabashed gender politics primer Free to Be…You and Me; Schoolhouse Rock!, an infectious series of educational shorts dreamed up by Madison Ave admen; and more, including The Electric Company and ZOOM. It was a unique time when an uncommon number of media professionals and thought leaders leveraged their influence to help children learn—and, just as notably, a time of unprecedented buy-in from American parents.
“Sunny Days is full of such nostalgic jolts…it makes the era a pleasure to revisit” (The Wall Street Journal) and captures a wondrous period in the US when a determined few proved that, with persistence and effort, they could change the lives of millions. It is “a lively and bewitching recounting of a particularly ripe period in television and cultural history” (The New York Times Book Review) and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “a sublime book about a variety of creative people coming together not in the pursuit of fame or money, but to enrich the lives of children.”
David Kamp is an author, journalist, humorist, lyricist, and a charter member of the Sesame Street—viewing audience. A longtime contributor to Vanity Fair, he has profiled such cultural icons as Johnny Cash, Sly Stone, Lucian Freud, Bruce Springsteen, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Among his books are the national bestseller The United States of Arugula, a chronicle of America’s foodways. His first musical as a lyricist, Kiss My Aztec!, a collaboration with John Leguizamo, had its world premiere at Berkeley Rep in 2019. He began his career at Spy, the legendary satirical monthly. He lives with his family in New York City and rural Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: Putting Down Roots in the Vast Wasteland
The young Jim Henson with Sam, Kermit, and Yorick on the regional TV program Sam and Friends.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Age of Enlightenment Jr. xiii
Chapter 1 Putting Down Roots in the Vast Wasteland 3
Chapter 2 "The Potential Uses of Television" 23
Chapter 3 The Captain Kangaroo Finishing School 33
Chapter 4 Fred and Joan Chart Their TV Destinies 39
Chapter 5 Geniuses Produce in Abundance 49
Chapter 6 Mister Rogers Develops His Neighborhood 65
Chapter 7 Give a Damn 75
Chapter 8 The Street Gets Real 89
Chapter 9 "A Street Where Neat Stuff Happens" 101
Chapter 10 In Search of the Urban Audience 115
Chapter 11 Diversity on the Street 129
Chapter 12 Backlash, Controversy, and Roosevelt Franklin 141
Chapter 13 Network Appeasement Gestures and Knockoffs 159
Chapter 14 The Sunshiny Poptimism of Schoolhouse Rock! 173
Chapter 15 Carole, Paula, and Other Local Heroes 187
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