|Written by||Ann Donegan Johnson|
|Publisher||Value Communications, Inc.|
The Value of Imagination: The Story of Jim Henson is a biography for children about the life of Jim Henson. The book is part of a series called "Value Tales", which teaches inspirational messages through the biographies of celebrated people. The volume on Abraham Lincoln is called "The Value of Respect", the Ludwig van Beethoven book is "The Value of Giving", and Christopher Columbus teaches "The Value of Curiosity." Proving that Henson didn't have a monopoly, the Charles Dickens biography is also called "The Value of Imagination."
The story follows Henson from a young boy in Mississippi to Washington, D.C., and then on to fame and fortune. Because the publishers didn't have a license to produce a book with images of the copyrighted Muppet characters, the illustrations use generic Muppety-looking puppets instead. For example, a two-page spread illustrating The Muppet Show depicts two blue cows playing banjo and guitar, backing up a singing purple horse.
The only actual Muppet pictured in the book is Pierre the French Rat, one of Henson's earliest puppets, because people don't really remember what he looks like. (The "Pierre" pictured in the book is a rather sinister-looking blue mouse with a beret.)
Sprinkled among the well-known facts of Henson's life are some unusual tidbits, including:
- His hobbies as a child were playing tennis with his brother, playing cards and board games with his friends, and stamp collecting.
- In his first school play, "Parade of Spices", Henson played a jar of sage.
- In college, Henson switched his major from Fine Arts to Home Economics, which offered courses in costume design, interior design, and puppetry.
- Henson believed that "home, school and television were the three most important influences on children."
The book also contains some factual errors:
- As a child, Henson watched puppet shows by Burr Tillstrom (Kukla, Fran and Ollie) and Bil Baird (Life with Snarky Parker). These shows specifically inspired Henson to work in television. (This assertion is not backed up by other sources, including many of Henson's interviews. Henson has been quoted as saying that he went into puppetry because he was interested in working on television, and not the other way around. Additionally, a 1982 interview with Henson revealed that he wasn't even aware of Life with Snarky Parker.)
- Henson didn't take Sam and Friends very seriously, and neither did WRC-TV. (WRC scheduled the show as a lead-in for the evening news, and for Steve Allen's Tonight! Henson worked very hard on Sam and Friends, creating sets and costumes.)
- The Wilkins Coffee commercials starred two Muppet characters named "Willie and Wontkins". (The characters were actually named Wilkins and Wontkins).
- Henson hired a puppeteer named Frank Oznowitz. (Oz's full name is Oznowicz).
- Henson himself designed the masks used in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (The heads were designed by Peter Brooke, Nigel Booth and John Blakeley in the Creature Shop).
- The book quotes Henson saying to his manager a few days before filming Sesame Street: "Incidentally, I'm working on this little children's show. It's an educational thing and I'm only doing it because I believe in it." (Henson worked on Sesame Street for over a year before it began filming, including his contributions to the Sesame Street Pitch Reel in January 1969. Henson and his team created new Muppet characters for the show, and produced short films for it. Sesame Street was much more than a "little children's show".)