Meet Zeerak, the Newest Afghan Muppet

Sesame Workshop
Sesame Workshop

Sesame Street isn't just an American show—it has co-productions around the world, localized for kids in different countries and cultures. In Afghanistan, Baghch-e-Simsim ("Sesame Garden") just began its sixth season. Last year, the show introduced 6-year-old Zari, the first Afghan Muppet. Now, Baghch-e-Simsim adds its second Afghan Muppet, Zeerak, to its cast.

Zeerak, whose name means "smart" and "talented" in Dari and Pashto, is Zari's younger brother. He's 4 years old. He enjoys painting and playing games, and is just learning to read and count—though he's not going to school just yet. Zeerak marks the first time a male Afghan Muppet has ever existed, and he will likely become a role model for kids in the region. Baghch-e-Simsim is the most-watched TV program among young children in Afghanistan.

Zeerak sits with his older sister Zari. They're reading together.
Zeerak sits with his older sister Zari. They're reading together.
Sesame Workshop

Like Zari, Zeerak has multicolored yarn hair. He's orange, with a purple nose, glasses, and an outfit appropriate to the region. In a press release, the Sesame Workshop explained early interactions between Zeerak and Zari:

In one segment called “Going to School,” Zeerak eagerly awaits Zari’s return from school and is excited to hear about her day. Zari explains that Zeerak will have the opportunity to go to school too someday, and that working hard in school will help him achieve his dreams. Zari encourages Zeerak to think about what he might become when he grows up, and offers to teach him a few lessons before he’s ready to go to school himself.

It's hard to overestimate the impact of this TV show on Afghan children. The Sesame Workshop reports:

...[A]mong children who watch TV, over 80% report watching [Baghch-e-Simsim]; 3.1 million children ages 3-7 are tuning in, up 45% from 2015. And Baghch-e-Simsim isn’t only engaging children—more than 70% of parents and caregivers watch the program alongside children, with Baghch-e-Simsim surpassing other Afghan children’s shows in terms of adult-child co-viewership.

Zeerak is on the show now, and you can catch up on segments via YouTube if you happen not to be in Afghanistan. For a look behind the scenes of the show's production (in English), check out this delightful video in which (among other things) Muppeteers in the US videoconference with their counterparts in Afghanistan. Enjoy:

Anthony Bourdain Is the Subject of a New Class at Louisiana's Nicholls State University

Larry French/Getty Images for DC Central Kitchen
Larry French/Getty Images for DC Central Kitchen

From journalism and television to the travel and restaurant industries, Anthony Bourdain influenced numerous fields throughout his career. His own work was also heavily influenced by the art, films, and literature he loved—and he wasn't afraid to make that clear in his shows. Next year, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana is hosting an entire class dedicated to the media that shaped the chef/writer/television personality, USA Today reports.

Nicholls State professor Todd Kennedy was inspired to design the course following Bourdain's death in June. Like many fans, he was affected by the loss, and started reflecting on how successful Bourdain had been in seamlessly blending literature, film, travel, and food into his documentaries. He pitched a class called "Anthony Bourdain and His Influencers" for the spring 2019 semester, which was quickly approved by the college.

"Almost every episode of Bourdain's shows directly reference and/or pay homage to a major work of literature or film as he develops his own visual and narrative argument about culture, politics, food, art, and the intersections therein," the class description reads. "This course will pair Bourdain's work with the writings and films that influenced him, connecting ways of understanding the world around us through the lens of a transformative writer and public figure."

Based on an image Kennedy shared on Twitter, the course materials will includes movies such as Apocalypse Now (1979) and Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and books like Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison and The Quiet American by Graham Greene. The class is a film studies course, but it also satisfies some English credits.

Enrollment for the class opens sometime this month, and it will only be open to current students at Nicholls State. A condensed version of the class will also be made available online to students outside southern Louisiana.

[h/t USA Today]

The 35 Most Frequently Banned Books of the Past 5 Years

iStock
iStock

The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why shocked viewers with its graphic portrayal of sensitive subjects like rape, bullying, and suicide. The book it was based on was equally controversial. Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel of the same name was the most challenged or banned book last year, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). Using information from the media as well as challenge reports, each year the OIF compiles a list of the previous year's top 10 most challenged books.

Since most requests to remove books from schools or libraries go unreported, these lists are not definitive; instead, they offer a “snapshot” of book challenges, according to the OIF. In recognition of Banned Books Week, which runs from September 23 through September 29, we’ve compiled a list of the most banned and challenged books of the past five years (2013 to 2017), including the years they were challenged and the reasons why.

1. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Discussion of suicide

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Year(s): 2013, 2014, 2017
Reason: Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, and “depictions of bullying”

3. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Year(s): 2014, 2016, 2017
Reason: LGBT characters

4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Year(s): 2014, 2017
Reason: Sexual violence, unsuited to age group; was thought to “promote Islam”

5. George by Alex Gino
Year(s): 2016, 2017
Reason: Transgender child character

6. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Addresses sex education; was thought to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex”

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Violence and use of the N-word

8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Drug use, profanity, offensive language

9. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell, Justin Richardson, and Henry Cole
Year(s): 2014, 2017
Reason:Anti-family, homosexuality, political and religious viewpoints

10. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas
Year(s): 2015, 2016, 2017
Reason: Addresses gender identity, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

11. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Year(s): 2016
Reason: LGBT characters, drug use, profanity, sexually explicit content

12. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Year(s): 2015, 2016
Reason: LGBT and sexually explicit content

13. Looking for Alaska by John Green
Year(s): 2013, 2015, 2016
Reason: Sexually explicit scene, unsuited to age group; was thought to lead students to “sexual experimentation”

14. Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Sexually explicit content

15. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Profanity and sexually explicit content; was called “disgusting and all around offensive”

16. Little Bill (series) by Bill Cosby and Varnette P. Honeywood
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Criminal sexual allegations against Bill Cosby

17. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Offensive language

18. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
Year(s): 2013, 2015
Reason: Sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group; was also called “poorly written”

19. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political and religious viewpoints, anti-family, unsuited to age group

20. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Profanity, religious viewpoint (atheism), unsuited to age group

21. The Holy Bible
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Religious viewpoint

22. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Violence and graphic images

23. Habibi by Craig Thompson
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Nudity, sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group

24. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group

25. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions; was called “politically, racially, and socially offensive”

26. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Year(s): 2013, 2014
Reason: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group; was said to “contain controversial issues”

27. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit

28. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

29. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Year(s): 2013, 2014
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit

30. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

31. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Offensive language, violence, unsuited to age group

32. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

33. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit content

34. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group

35. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

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