At first glance, you might think the new book Love the Fur You’re In (available now) looks just like the rest of the recent series of Sesame Street advice books. Like The Joy of Cookies and The Pursuit of Grouchiness, it has a beloved Muppet on the front. Also like those books, it consists entirely of advice to the reader accompanied by images.

But at second glance, you’ll notice that the other two books have photographs of Cookie Monster and Oscar on the covers, while this one has a drawing of Grover from The Monster at the End of this Book instead. As it turns out, that makes all the difference, because it reflects what’s on the inside.

Those other two books were disposable, and this one is stunning. I don’t want to spend too much time insulting those perfectly pleasant, completely forgettable books, but all of the images in them were recycled stock photography. Nothing jumped out at you, because every page looked basically the same.

Well, the images in
Love the Fur You’re In are recycled too. But they aren’t bland photos of Grover against a white background. Most of them don’t even contain Grover. Instead, each page is an illustration from a classic Sesame Street children’s book, making this a greatest hits collection for that line. A lot of items this year have the “50 Years and Counting” logo on them, but this one really feels like an anniversary special.

Like most Muppet fans, I grew up reading Sesame Street books, but I didn’t give them the same attention as the TV show. It’s almost a parallel Sesame Street universe, one we spend a lot of time on but then forget about. So while many of the pictures here were familiar, I had no idea who the artists were. I’m so glad this book came along to pay tribute to these men and women who created some of the most indelible Sesame images of my childhood.

The variety of images on display is breathtaking, and each one helpfully credits the artist and the original book. All told, there are twenty different artists represented, with work from 49 books, one calendar, and the Sesame Street style guide. It’s a real Hall of Fame of
Sesame Street art.

That includes prolific legends like Joe Mathieu, Michael Frith, and Michael Smollin, as well as many others whose names I didn’t know. Among the highlights are Kelli Oeschsli’s cartoony genie, Laurent Linn’s paintings, Mike Pantuso’s ersatz crayon drawings, and Harry McNaught’s heavily textured work. They’re all gorgeous, and it’s such a treat to be reminded of them.

The book also contains words, which are in the form of pithy sayings like “Don’t give a hoot – just play your song” and “Swing for the fences.” That’s fine – if nothing else, it gave me something to say out loud when I read this book to my 4-year-old – but the pictures are the real star here. You won’t remember the text five minutes after you close the book, but you’ll want to flip through the art again and again.

Click here to argue that the spaceship page from Oscar’s Book should be in the Louvre!

by Anthony Strand

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