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Sesame Workshop

Sesame Street Introduces Julia, a New Muppet With Autism

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Sesame Workshop

There's a new Muppet on Sesame Street: Julia. She's a "preschool girl with autism who does things a little differently when playing with her friends, the lovable Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Grover," the Sesame Workshop told ABC News in 2015, when Julia made her debut—in digital form—as the face of a broad set of autism-awareness tools the Sesame Workshop had rolled out called "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children." But based on her popularity online, Julia is about to become a full-fledged Muppet when she joins the rest of the gang on Sesame Street in April.

In the storybooks, Julia explains to her Sesame Street friends how she likes to play a little differently from them.

"If you're five years old, and see another kid not making eye contact with you, you may think that child doesn't want to play with you. But that's not the case," Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop's executive vice president of global impacts and philanthropy, told People in 2015. "We want to create greater awareness and empathy." The television version of Julia endeavors to do the same.

"I think the big discussion right at the start was, 'How do we do this? How do we talk about autism?'" said Christine Ferraro, who has been writing for Sesame Street for 25 years, and has seen the number of children with autism increase during that time.

To make sure they get the character just right, the Sesame Workshop has enlisted the services of Stacey Gordon, a puppeteer and mom who has a son with autism. "It’s important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like," Gordon told 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl. "Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened. They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s OK."

Though Julia won't make her small-screen debut until next month, you can get a sneak peek of her character in the video below:

Julia is one of many Muppets who have tackled serious issues. Over the years, Sesame Street has featured Muppets who deal with food insecurity, malaria, visual impairment, parental incarceration, bullying, and living with HIV. Welcome, Julia! We're glad you're here to be amazing with us.

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Meet Zeerak, the Newest Afghan Muppet
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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:

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Pop Culture
Someone Remade the Beastie Boys' 'Sabotage' Video With Muppets
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STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

For years, we didn't believe that any Jim Henson mash-up video could be greater than when the Dinosaurs remade The Notorious B.I.G.’s "Hypnotize." But YouTuber Is This How You Go Viral (real name: Adam Schleichkorn) may have proven us wrong with his Muppet-filled redux of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" (a.k.a. "Sesametage").

The original 1994 Beastie Boys video, which was directed by Spike Jonze, was a play on 1970s crime shows like Starsky & Hutch, with the band featured as the show’s protagonists. It has regularly been cited as one of the best music videos in the history of the medium (see here and here). In the case of "Sesametage," it's Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, Bert, Ernie, Telly, and more who are on the lam.

"About three years ago, I spent a Sunday editing a video of the Muppets rapping 'So What'cha Want,' which ended up being a total game-changer for me," Schleichkorn writes in the video description. "The original 'Sabotage' music video is without a doubt, one of the greatest of all time, so I knew I couldn't do a regular old lip sync video, I had to bring it!"

You can watch the video below, and check out more of Schleichkorn’s Muppet mash-ups (including Gonzo's "Humpty Dance" and "So What'cha Want") on his YouTube page.

[h/t: NPR]

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