Sesame Street's new 'poverty-stricken' Muppet

In an upcoming special, the kids show will introduce Lily, a purple puppet who doesn't always know where her next meal will come from

The new impoverished Muppet, Lily: Too "upbeat"?
(Image credit: Facebook/Sesame Street, Gil Vaknik, 2011)

Not every day is a sunny day on PBS' Sesame Street, particularly for Lily, a new "poverty-stricken" Muppet who will star in a one-hour prime-time special (airing Oct. 9) that aims to teach kids about poverty and hunger. In the special, co-hosted by country singer Brad Paisley and his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Lily reveals that "sometimes I go with my family to the food pantry." That really affects fellow-Muppet Elmo. "Elmo never has to think about where his next meal is coming from," he says. After helping teach kids about death (R.I.P. Mr. Hooper), the recession (Elmo's mother was recently laid off), and even AIDS with the introduction of an HIV positive Muppet (in a South African version of the show), is this further proof that Sesame Street is ahead of the curve when it comes to educating about social issues?

Yes. This is a wonderful decision: At first glance, poverty and hunger might seem like "intense topics for the preschool population," says Andrea Coventry at Gather. But Sesame Street has a strong tradition of tackling such topics in a way that gets through to young kids. And since many children don't really understand why they are collecting canned food over the holidays, or why they're raising money to combat hunger, this show could explain the issue — and "inspire them to help."

"New Sesame Street Muppet faces poverty"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

But it might encourage kids to laugh off poverty: Hunger "is a very real concern," says Jeff Anderson at Zap2it. And most Americans "don't revel in making light of it." And let's be honest: "Lily looks a bit too upbeat." The whole endeavor brings to mind an old Chris Rock joke: "Real homeless people are too hungry to be funny."

"Sesame Street to introduce poverty-stricken hungry Muppet"

This is clearly a good thing — but it's just a start: This promises to be an excellent "preschool primer about a reality many parents don't know how to talk about," says Claudia Kalb at NPR. But "no TV special can substitute for actually being there." Parents truly serious about teaching their kids about hunger should have them take groceries to a food kitchen and see the situation for themselves.

"Sesame Street tackles child hunger, one Muppet at a time"

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.