N4L 147: "Sunny Days" by David Kamp

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By Janet Perry, Janet Perry: blogger, and Nonfiction book lover. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

SUMMARY

David Kamp shines light on a bright, optimistic movement in his book, Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution that Changed America.

When a group of progressive intellectuals, artists, and activists decided to focus on disadvantaged children, a children’s television revolution began. Driven by their agenda was to “do good,” this group also believed “the federal government could and should play a major role in early-childhood initiatives.” Fortunately, political winds blew in their sails, providing both funding and enthusiasm for a plethora of children’s television educational programming in the 60s and 70s.

Meanwhile, the social sciences were also gaining credibility, adding psychological and educational underpinnings to what may have otherwise been perceived as simply silly or fluffy. With the burgeoning popularity of Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the political will to provide free access to learning, children’s television enjoyed the “Age of Enlightenment, Jr.” Further fueling this critical movement were “media professionals, thought leaders, and politicians alike prioritizing children and education as they never had before—and in so doing, changing the lives of millions.”

In short, Kamp’s Sunny Days, substantiated by interviews and research, helps paint a picture of a rare time in history when people chose to put the public good above their own careerism.

KEY PEOPLE & PROGRAMS

  • Joan Ganz Cooney & Lloyd Morrisette – led the charge to leverage television for preparing preschoolers for school
  • Bob Keeshan - founder, creator, and main character of the show Captain Kangaroo; eschewed using children’s television to promote children’s toy guns and other toys
  • Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) – original American nonprofit responsible for the production of several educational children's programs—including its first and best-known, Sesame Street
  • Sesame Street – the granddaddy of all children’s television programs developed in the 60s and 70s
  • Jon Stone – original conceiver and key showrunner of Sesame Street; brought a certain hipness to TV, making the show popular with children and adults alike
  • Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In – American sketch comedy show that inspired the pacing for Sesame Street
  • Jim Henson’s Muppets – held magic in their abstract nature; stimulated imaginations
  • Electric Company – a fast-paced spinoff of Sesame Street designed to teach
  • Schoolhouse Rock conceived by ad men at McCaffrey & McCall when they recognized children could easily memorize words to songs
  • Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood - long-running children’s program conceived by Fred Rogers and informed by developmental pediatric psychiatrist Margaret McFarland
  • Matt Robinson – creator of Muppet character Roosevelt Franklin whose mannerisms and speech were primarily representative of an African-American man
  • Free to Be…You and Me – program hosted by Marlo Thomas; promoted a strong feminist agenda

QUOTE FROM KAMP

  • “Children’s advocates…had high regard for children, believing them capable of intellectual and emotional engagement, and of seeing through cutesy artifice.”

BUY Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed America

RECOMMENDATION

BUY Puppet Pals, brightly-colored, oversized children’s puppets (designed and sold by Andrew Olsen).

BONUS PODCAST

LISTEN to a related Nonfiction4Life podcast: "The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers" by Maxwell King.

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