When Mississippi Tried to Ban Sesame Street for Showing a “Highly Integrated Cast” (1970)

On November 10, 1969, Sesame Street made its broadcast debut.

The very first lines were spoken by Gordon (Matt Robinson), a Black schoolteacher who’s showing a new kid around the neighborhood, introducing her to a couple of other kids, along with Sesame Street adult mainstays Bob, Susan, and Mr. Hooper, and Big Bird, whose appearance had yet to find its final form:

Sally, you’ve never seen a street like Sesame Street. Everything happens here. You’re gonna love it.

The milieu would have felt familiar to children growing up on New York City’s Upper West Side, or Harlem or the Bronx. While not every block was as well integrated as Sesame Street’s cheerful, deliberately multicultural, brownstone setting, any subway ride was an opportunity to rub shoulders with New Yorkers of all races, classes and creeds.

Not six months later, the all-White Mississippi State Commission for Educational Television voted 3 to 2 to remove Sesame Street from their state’s airwaves.

A disgruntled pro-Sesame commission member leaked the reason to The New York Times:

Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children.

The whistleblower also intimated that those same members objected to the fact that Robinson and Loretta Long, the actor portraying Susan, were Black.

They claimed Mississippi was “not yet ready” for such a show, even though Sesame Street was an immediate hit. Professionals in the fields of psychology, education, and medicine had consulted on its content, helping it secure a significant amount of federal and private grants prior to filming. The show had been lauded for its main mission – preparing American children from low-income backgrounds for kindergarten through lively educational programming with ample representation.

Kids growing up in sheltered, all-white enclaves stood to gain, too, by being welcomed into a television neighborhood where Black and white families were shown happily coexisting, treating each other with kindness, patience and respect. (Sonia Manzano and Emilio Delgado, who played Maria and Luis, joined the cast soon after.)

Even though Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee also moved to pre-empt the innovative hit show, the government appointees on the Mississippi State Commission for Educational Television who’d ousted Sesame Street found themselves outnumbered when Jackson residents of all ages staged a protest in front of Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s HQ.]

The Delta Democrat-Times published an editorial piece arguing that “there is no state which more desperately needs every educational tool it can find than Mississippi:”

There is no educational show on the market today better prepared than Sesame Street to teach preschool children what many cannot or do not learn in their homes….The needs are immense.

After 22 days, the ban was rolled back and Sesame Street was reinstated.

That fall, the cast made a pitstop in Jackson during a 14-city national tour. Susan, Gordon, Bob, Mr. Hooper and Big Bird sang and joked with audience members as part of an event co-sponsored by the very same commission that had tried to blackball them, and left without having received a formal apology.

Sesame Street has stayed true to its progressive agenda throughout its fifty+ year history, a commitment that seems more essential than ever in 2023.

Below, Elmo, a Muppet who rose through the ranks to become a Sesame Street star engages in an entry-level conversation about race with some newer characters in an episode from two years ago.

The Sesame Workshop recommends it for viewers aged 1 to 4, though it seems our country doesn’t lack for adult citizens who could do with a refresher on the subject…

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Watch Twin Beaks, Sesame Street’s Parody of David Lynch’s Iconic TV Show (1990)

Philip Glass Composes Music for a Sesame Street Animation (1979)

Watch Jazzy Spies: 1969 Psychedelic Sesame Street Animation, Featuring Grace Slick, Teaches Kids to Count

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

1000+ Barbie Commercials Provides Context for This Summer’s Pinkest Blockbuster (1959-2023)

The Barbie movie has captured the popular imagination in a big way.

The New York Times can’t get enough of the recently opened summer blockbuster. Between reviews, fashion round ups, interviews, box office reports and op eds, it has published over two dozen pieces tied to this massive cultural moment.

Even those who don’t feel a burning need to catch Barbie at the multiplex are likely aware of the Barbenheimer phenom.

But what about those who grew up in feminist homes, or sisterless cis-males of a certain age?

Will a lack of hands-on experience diminish the cinematic pleasures of Barbie?

Not if you immerse yourself in BarbieCollectors’ chronological playlist of Barbie commercials before ticketing up. That’s over a thousand ads, spanning more than six decades.

The 1959 ad, above, that introduced the glamorous “teen age fashion doll” to the public clears up the misperception that pink has always been Barbie’s de facto color. It’s black-and-white, but so is the diagonal striped swimsuit the film’s star, Margot Robbie models in the film’s opener, a tongue in cheek homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

(Astute observers may note the similarities between some of the sophisticated ensembles original flavor Barbie sports here and the outfits Robbie donned for the pink carpet prior to the Screen Actors Guild strike.)

In the battle between pink and historical record, pink is destined to come out on top in the Barbie movie. Director Greta Gerwig and her design team punch up Barbie’s early 80’s Western look with a wide pink brush, lowering the neckline but keeping the wink.

The doll came with a working autograph stamp Robbie may consider adopting, should Barbie mania continue on into fall.

One of the most thrilling design elements of the movie is the human scale Dreamhouses occupied by Barbie and her friends, the majority of whom are also named Barbie.

The Dreamhouse has taken many architectural forms over the years – townhouse, cottage, mansion – but it always comes without a fourth wall.

Another cinematic treat is the roll call of vehicles Barbie commandeers on her journey to the real world with her hapless boyfriend, Ken.

Some of the film’s deeper cuts are jokes at the expense of misguided releases, Barbie sidekicks so ill-conceived that they were quickly discontinued, although 1993’s Earring Magic Ken became a bestseller, thanks to his popularity in the gay community.

Look for Barbie’s pregnant pal, Midge, her yellow Labrador retriever, Tanner (whose scoopable excrement was quickly deemed a choking hazard) and Growing up Skipper, the little sister who goes through puberty with a twist of the arm … “which is something you can’t do,” the commercial’s narrator taunts in a rare reversal of the “girls can be anything” ethos Mattel insists is part of the brand.

Of course, one can only cram so many knowingly-placed products into one feature-length film.

Are those of you who grew up with Barbie hurting from any glaring omissions? (Asking as a child of the Malibu Barbie era…)

Those who didn’t grow up with Barbie can play along too by sampling from BarbieCollectors’ massive chronological commercial playlist, then nominating your favorites in the comments.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Original Schoolhouse Rock Composers Sing “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill” Live in Concert

At first blush, Schoolhouse Rock!, the interstitial animations airing between ABC’s Saturday morning cartoon line up from 1973 to 1984, may seem like a catchy, educational equivalent of sneaking spinach into pancakes (and a major Gen X touchstone.)

Not so fast! It’s also jazz, baby!

Jazz pianist Bob Dorough recalled how an ad exec at a New York ad agency pitched the idea:

My little boys can’t memorize their times tables, but they sing along with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, so why don’t you put it to rock music and we’ll call it Multiplication Rock?

Dorough, whose compositional preferences ran to “extravagant love songs” and vocal challenging numbers, realized that his first order of business would be to write a good song:

I hit upon the idea, let’s pick a number. Three! That’s a good number. And I sat down at the piano and started fooling around. It took me 2 weeks.

In his hands, three became a magic number, an ear worm to bring even the most reluctant elementary mathematicians up to speed in no time.

Eventually, Dorough was able to bring many of his jazz world friends into the fold, including, most famously, trumpeter and Merv Griffin Show sidekick Jack Sheldon, whose one-of-a-kind delivery is the hands down highlight of “Conjunction Junction.”

(Many Schoolhouse Rock! fans, viewing the excerpt of the duo’s mid-90’s live appearance on the KTLA Morning Show, above, professed disbelief that Sheldon’s soul was of the blue-eyed variety, even though the animated engineer who serves as his avatar in that three minute episode is white.)

In an interview with the director of the Fillius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College, Sheldon agreed that the series owed a major debt to jazz:

When we made Conjunction Junction, it was me and Teddy Edwards and Nick Ceroli and Leroy Vinegar and Bob Dorough played the piano. That’s a jazz band…it was really nothing to do with rock. It was always jazz, but we said rock and roll, so everybody loved it for rock and roll.

Another memorable collaboration between Sheldon and Dorough is the much parodied “I’m Just a Bill,” in which a weary scroll loiters on the steps of the Capital Building, explaining to a wide eyed youngster (voiced by his son) the process by which a bill becomes law.

Doroughs’ Schoolhouse Rock! contributions include the haunting Figure Eight, the folky Lucky Seven Sampson, whose sentiments Dorough identified with most closely, and Naughty Number Nine, which his protégé, singer-songwriter Nellie McKay singled out for special praise, “cause it was kind of weird and subversive:”

(It) made me want to gamble and win. I got hooked when I heard Bob’s jazzy rasp of a voice breaking the rules even as he explained them… this guy had a wild mind, which I figured out later equaled creativity.

She also paid the perpetually sunny Dorough, whom she first encountered “glow(ing) with health and good cheer, spreading sunshine wherever he went on the campus of East Stroudsburg University, the supreme compliment:

Lou Reed‘s idea of hell would be to sit in heaven with Bob Dorough.

via Laughing Squid

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Discover Pemmican, The Power Bar Invented Centuries Ago by Native American Tribes

Outdoor enthusiasts of a non-vegetarian stripe, do you weary of garden variety energy bars and trail mix?

Perhaps you’re feeling adventurous enough to make your own pemmican, variously described by Tasting Historys Max Miller, above, as “history’s Power Bar” and “a meaty version of a survival food that has a shelf life not measured in months but in decades, just like hard tack.”

Perhaps you’re already well acquainted with this  low-carb, ketogenic portable provision, a culinary staple of the upper half of North America long before the first European traders set foot on the land. Many indigenous communities across North America are still producing pemmican for both personal and ceremonial consumption.

Back in 1743, Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader James Isham was one of the first to document pemmican production for an English readership:

 [Meat] beat between two Stones, till some of itt is as small as Dust…when pounded they putt itt into a bag and will Keep for several Years, the Bones they also pound small and Boil them…to Reserve the fatt, which fatt is fine and sweet as any Butter…Reckon’d by some Very good food by the English as well as Natives.

Perhaps now would be a good time to give thanks for the plentiful food options most of us have access to in the 21st-century (and pay it forward with a donation to an organization fighting food insecurity…)

A time may come when knowing how to make pemmican could give us a leg up on surviving, but for now, execution of this recipe is likely more of a curiosity satisfier.

To be fair, it’s not designed to be a delicacy, but rather an extremely long lasting source of calories, four times as nourishing as the same weight of fresh meat.

If you want to try it, lay in 2 pounds of meat – bison is historically the most popular and most documented, but deer, elk, moose, beef, fish, or fowl work well too.

You’ll also need an equal amount of suet, though heed Miller’s advice and add just enough to make things stick.

Bump the flavor up a notch with ground dried berries, sugar, or salt.

(Miller went the traditional route with chokeberries, procured in an extremely 21st-century manner.)

In terms of appliances, feel free to use such modern conveniences as your oven, your blender, and a small pan or mold.

(Please report back if you take the old school route with fire, direct sunlight, mortar, pestle, and a bag formed from undressed hide.)

Given Miller’s response to the finished dish, we’re hunching most of us will rest content to feast on historical context alone, as Miller digs into the Pemmican Proclamation of 1814, the Seven Oaks Incident and the unique role the biracial, bilingual Métis people of Canada played in the North American fur trade

Those still up for it should feel free to take their pemmican to the next level by boiling it with wild onions or the tops of parsnips, to produce a rubaboo or rechaud, as bushcrafter Mark Young does below.

You can also get a taste of pemmican by ordering the Tanka Bars that Oglala Lakota-owned small business produces on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.

Watch more of Max Miller’s Tasting History videos here.

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday. 

A Retired Math Teacher Helps Students Learn Geometry Through Quilting

Some real talk from retired geometry teacher Wendy Lichtman, above, the author of several math-themed YA novels:

Not many 15-year-olds care that two parallel lines are crossed by a transversal.

“But right here are two parallel lines,” she continues, pointing to a pink and orange quilt. “and these are transversals, and they are at a 90º angle and it feels real. You’ve gotta get it to look right.”

The teenaged participants in the Oakland, California program she founded to demystify geometry through hands-on quiltmaking get it to look right by plotting their designs on graph paper, carefully measuring and cutting shapes from bright calico of their own choosing. (Licthman has committed to buttoning her lip if their favored print is not to her taste.)

Lichtman came up with this creative approach to help a bright student who was in danger of not graduating, having flunked geometry three times.

She details their journey in How to Make a Geometric Quilt, an essay formatted as step-by-step instructions…not for quiltmaking but rather how those in the teaching profession can lead with humility and determination, while maintaining good boundaries.

Some highlights:

6. Sometime after the sewing has begun, and the math notebook is ignored for weeks, begin to worry that your student is not really learning geometry.  She’s learning sewing and she’s learning to fix a broken bobbin, but really, geometry?

7. Remind yourself that this kid needs a quilt as much as she needs geometry.

8. Remember, also, the very, very old woman who taught you hat-making one night long ago.  She had gone to school only through 5th grade because, she said, she was a Black child in the deep south and that’s how it was back then.  Think about how she explained to the hat-making class that to figure out the length of the hat’s brim, you needed to measure from the center to the edge with a string and then do “three of those and a little bit more,” and remember how you sat in awe, because three radii and a little bit more is the definition of pi, and this hat-maker had evidently discovered for herself the formula for circumference.

As the two become better acquainted, the student let her guard down, revealing more about her situation while they swapped stories of their mothers.

But this was no easy A.

In addition to expecting regular, punctual attendance, Lictman stipulated that in order to pass, the student could not give the fruits of her labor away.

(Solid advice for creators of any craft project this ambitious. As Debbie Stoller, author of Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook counsels:

…those who have never knit something have no idea how much time it took. If you give someone a sweater, they may think that you made that in an evening when you were watching a half-hour sitcom. It’s only when people actually attempt to knit that they finally get this realization, this light bulb goes on over their heads, and they realize that, “Wow, this actually takes some skill and some time. I’ve got newfound respect for my grandma.”)

Ultimately, Lichtman concludes that the five credits she awarded her student could not be reduced to something as simple as geometry or quilt-making;

You are giving her credit for something less tangible.  Something like pride.  Five credit hours for feeling she can accomplish something hard that, okay, is slightly related to geometry.

Examples of the current cohort’s work can be seen on Rock Paper Scissors Collective‘s Instagram.

Once completed, these quilts will be donated to Bay Area foster children and pediatric patients at the local Children’s Hospital.

via BoingBoing

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Via Boing Boing

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Meet Little Amal, the 12-Foot Puppet of a 10-Year-Old Syrian Girl, Who Has Been Touring the World

Little Amal is a 10-year-old Syrian girl from a small village near Aleppo, a refugee and unaccompanied minor, who’s traveled over 9,000 kilometers over the last 15 months, hoping to reunite with her mother.

Little Amal is also a 12-foot tall rod puppet, operated by three performers – one on stilts inside her molded cane torso, to operate her head, face and legs, with two more taking charge of her hands.

As her creators, Handspring Puppet Company co-founders Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, explain above, Amal’s puppeteers must enter a group mind state when interacting with the crowds who turn out to meet her at free, community-created events:

If the person inside on the stilts decides to turn left, the other two have to respond immediately as the arms would, so they all think the same thought.

Amal, who travels with three times as many puppeteers as are required for any given appearance and two back up versions of herself in case of malfunction, is truly a miracle of non-verbal communication.

As a child who doesn’t speak the language of the countries she has visited, she expresses herself with gestures, and seemingly involuntary micro-movements.

She bows graciously in both greeting and farewell, taking extra time to touch hands with little children.

She swivels her head, eagerly, if a bit apprehensively, taking in her surroundings.

Her lips part in wonder, revealing a row of pearly teeth.

Her big, expressive eyes are operated by the performer on stilts, using a trackpad on a tiny computer.

The lightweight ribbons that make up her long hair, pulled none too tidily away from her face with a floppy bow, catch the breeze as she towers above her well wishers.

After stops in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, France and the UK, Little Amal landed in New York City, where members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Children’s Chorus serenaded her with Evening Song from Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha as she passed through John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The New York Times’ Matt Stevens described the scene as Amal came into view:

As her head peeked out from above metal barriers, Little Amal widened her eyes as she took in the arrivals terminal at Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday. She looked left, then right, clutching her big green suitcase with its rainbow and sun stickers. She was, as newcomers to New York City so often are, a little nervous, and a little lost…(she) appeared transfixed by the music — much like the many travelers strolling by with their suitcases appeared transfixed by the 12-foot-tall puppet suddenly towering before them. Still, she was trepidatious, a tad reluctant to approach the orchestra. At least, that is, until a chorus member — a girl wearing a sunflower yellow shirt — went up to her and took her by the hand.

With 50 events in 20 days, Little Amal had a packed schedule that included a nightime visit to Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park and an early morning trip along Coney Island’s boardwalk. Unlike most first time visitors, she spent time in Queens, Staten Island and The Bronx.

A New Orleans style second line processional escorted her a little over a dozen blocks, from Lincoln Center, where she interacted with dancers and performance artist Machine Dazzle, to the American Museum of Natural History, above.

New York’s immigrant history was evident in Little Amal’s tour of the Lower East Side and Chinatown, with stops at the Tenement Museum and the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center.

With every appearance, Amal’s incredibly lifelike movements and dignified reserved turned adults as well as children turned into believers, while bringing attention to the tens of thousands of children who have fled war and persecution in their home countries.

See photos and read more about Little Amal’s past and future travels here.

Download a free Little Amal activity and education pack here.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Enter an Archive of 7,000 Historical Children’s Books, All Digitized & Free to Read Online

5 Little PIgs

We can learn much about how a historical period viewed the abilities of its children by studying its children’s literature. Occupying a space somewhere between the purely didactic and the nonsensical, most children’s books published in the past few hundred years have attempted to find a line between the two poles, seeking a balance between entertainment and instruction. However, that line seems to move closer to one pole or another depending on the prevailing cultural sentiments of the time. And the very fact that children’s books were hardly published at all before the early 18th century tells us a lot about when and how modern ideas of childhood as a separate category of existence began.


“By the end of the 18th century,” writes Newcastle University professor M.O. Grenby, “children’s literature was a flourishing, separate and secure part of the publishing industry in Britain.” The trend accelerated rapidly and has never ceased—children’s and young adult books now drive sales in publishing (with 80% of YA books bought by grown-ups for themselves).

Grenby notes that “the reasons for this sudden rise of children’s literature” and its rapid expansion into a booming market by the early 1800s “have never been fully explained.” We are free to speculate about the social and pedagogical winds that pushed this historical change.

Afloat with Nelson

Or we might do so, at least, by examining the children’s literature of the Victorian era, perhaps the most innovative and diverse period for children’s literature thus far by the standards of the time. And we can do so most thoroughly by surveying the thousands of mid- to late 19th century titles at the University of Florida’s Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature. Their digitized collection currently holds over 7,000 books free to read online from cover to cover, allowing you to get a sense of what adults in Britain and the U.S. wanted children to know and believe.

Zig Zag

Several genres flourished at the time: religious instruction, naturally, but also language and spelling books, fairy tales, codes of conduct, and, especially, adventure stories—pre-Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew examples of what we would call young adult fiction, these published principally for boys. Adventure stories offered a (very colonialist) view of the wide world; in series like the Boston-published Zig Zag and English books like Afloat with Nelson, both from the 1890s, fact mingled with fiction, natural history and science with battle and travel accounts. But there is another distinctive strain in the children’s literature of the time, one which to us—but not necessarily to the Victorians—would seem contrary to the imperialist young adult novel.

Bible Picture Book

For most Victorian students and readers, poetry was a daily part of life, and it was a central instructional and storytelling form in children’s lit. The A.L.O.E.’s Bible Picture Book from 1871, above, presents “Stories from the Life of Our Lord in Verse,” written “simply for the Lord’s lambs, rhymes more readily than prose attracting the attention of children, and fastening themselves on their memories.” Children and adults regularly memorized poetry, after all. Yet after the explosion in children’s publishing the former readers were often given inferior examples of it. The author of the Bible Picture Book admits as much, begging the indulgence of older readers in the preface for “defects in my work,” given that “the verses were made for the pictures, not the pictures for the verses.”

Elfin Rhymes

This is not an author, or perhaps a type of literature, one might suspect, that thinks highly of children’s aesthetic sensibilities.  We find precisely the opposite to be the case in the wonderful Elfin Rhymes from 1900, written by the mysterious “Norman” with “40 drawings by Carton Moorepark.” Whoever “Norman” may be (or why his one-word name appears in quotation marks), he gives his readers poems that might be mistaken at first glance for unpublished Christina Rossetti verses; and Mr. Moorepark’s illustrations rival those of the finest book illustrators of the time, presaging the high quality of Caldecott Medal-winning books of later decades. Elfin Rhymes seems like a rare oddity, likely published in a small print run; the care and attention of its layout and design shows a very high opinion of its readers’ imaginative capabilities.

Elfin Rhymes 2

This title is representative of an emerging genre of late Victorian children’s literature, which still tended on the whole, as it does now, to fall into the trite and formulaic. Elfin Rhymes sits astride the fantasy boom at the turn of the century, heralded by hugely popular books like Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz series and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. These, the Harry Potters of their day, made millions of young people passionate readers of modern fairy tales, representing a slide even further away from the once quite narrow, “remorselessly instructional… or deeply pious” categories available in early writing for children, as Grenby points out.

All Around the Moon

Where the boundaries for kids’ literature had once been narrowly fixed by Latin grammar books and Pilgrim’s Progress, by the end of the 19th century, the influence of science fiction like Jules Verne’s, and of popular supernatural tales and poems, prepared the ground for comic books, YA dystopias, magician fiction, and dozens of other children’s literature genres we now take for granted, or—in increasingly large numbers—we buy to read for ourselves. Enter the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature here, where you can browse several categories, search for subjects, authors, titles, etc, see full-screen, zoomable images of book covers, download XML versions, and read all of the over 7,000 books in the collection with comfortable reader views. Find more classics in our collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Dolly Parton Reads Free Bedtime Stories to Kids: Watch Readings from Goodnight with Dolly

However old you may be, you’re never too old to have a children’s book read aloud to you by a pajama clad Dolly Parton.

So snuggle up!

Every episode of Goodnight with Dolly finds the country music icon in bed, glamorously made up as ever, reading glasses perched on her nose.

She introduces herself not as Dolly Parton, but the Book Lady, an honorific bestowed by the child beneficiaries of the Imagination Library, the non-profit she founded in 1995 to foster children’s love of books and reading.

The selections are all titles that Imagination Library participants have received free in the mail, with the Book Lady’s compliments.

Once things get rolling, the camera shifts to the illustrations, with Dolly’s zesty narration as voice over.

She lowers her voice to play Grandpa in the late Floyd Cooper’s Max and the Tag-Along Moon and the freight train in the 90th anniversary edition of Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could.

If her dramatic recitations occasionally include a bungled preposition, we can’t imagine authors taking umbrage.

In addition to the millions of children who benefit from Imagination Library membership, authors and illustrators whose titles selected for inclusion reap incredible rewards in the form of increased visibility, sales, status, and of course, the good feeling that comes from being part of such a worthy project.

And we sincerely hope even the prickliest grammar sticklers won’t blow a gasket over the odd “ain’t” and regionalisms born of Dolly’s East Tennessee mountain roots. In addition to coming from an authentic place, they’re delivered with a lot of heart and zero affect.

Though a word of caution to parents planning to let Dolly take over tonight: the series may be billed as bedtime stories, but Parton’s mischievous sense of humor is liable to have a non-soporific effect.

“Are you still awake?” she crows directly into the camera after There’s a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake, author-illustrator Loren Long’s crowd pleasing comic spin on the cumulative camp song staple. “I want to throw you in a lake if you don’t get in bed!”

The Book Lady is also fond of sharing a high energy snippet of whatever song the evening’s tale has put her in mind of.

Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street, with award winning illustrations by Christian Robinson, inspires a few lines from Poor Folks Town, from 1972.

Come on down

Have a look around

Rich folks livin’ in a poor folks town

We got no money but we’re rich in love

That’s one thing that we’ve got a-plenty of

So come on down have a look around

At rich folks livin’ in a poor folks town

(“If that won’t put you to sleep, I don’t know what will,” she teases, after.)

After Dolly bids her listeners goodnight, the book’s author or illustrator is usually given a chance to have a word with the parents or caregivers, to stress how reading aloud deepens familial bonds and share childhood memories of being read to.

De la Peña, whose book features a grandmother pointing out the sort of non-monetary riches Dolly’s mother also valued, takes the opportunity to thank the self-effacing star’s efforts to “reach working class communities” – presumably through representation, as well as books intended to cultivate a lifelong love of reading.

Enjoy a playlist of Goodnight with Dolly episodes here.

Learn more about the Imagination Library here.

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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Has Given Away 186 Million Free Books to Kids, Boosting Literacy Worldwide

Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” Slowed Down to 33RPM Sounds Great and Takes on New, Unexpected Meanings

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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