by Michael Davis

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President Nixon wanted its funding cut; the BBC dubbed it hucksterism. Shows how much they knew: Sesame Street ruled the kid-TV roost soon after it first aired in 1969 and is still beloved by 6 million American preschoolers and seen in 140 countries. Former TV Guide columnist Davis shows just how revolutionary the show was, from its tackling of taboo themes like death to its diverse cast and gritty urban setting. Boasting a panel of academic advisers, it was the first show to successfully teach kids letters and numbers in a way that was hip and raucous. Davis delves into the lives of the colorful folk who made it all happen, including Children's Television Workshop cofounder Joan Ganz Cooney and Muppets creator Jim Henson (who died of a strep infection in '90 because, as one friend said, "he didn't do the doctor thing"). The show's popularity waned in the '90s—when Barney cut a wide purple swath through its ratings—but the irresistible Elmo helped revitalize it. Davis's chronicle is as joyfully compelling as Sesame Street itself.

by Terrell Harris Dougan

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Dougan writes with grace about caring for her sister Irene, who—well into middle age—wears Mickey Mouse socks, makes strangers talk to her dolls and throws furniture when she's mad. In one sense it's a simple story about having a mentally handicapped sibling. But Dougan wants us to consider how we define a successful life. Irene may be limited, but she gives, and gets, happiness daily. And Dougan finds joy in a caretaking task that can be overwhelming. "Think how boring life would be," she writes, "without all the bumps."

by C.J. Box

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If you think the following sounds more like a Lifetime movie than a thriller—childless couple adopts a baby only to discover that her birth father wants her back—C.J. Box would like five hours of your time. Because Three Weeks is not a 10-hankie melodrama. It is a vigilante revenge story out to prove that when their families are threatened, human fathers act just like mother bears. That is, blood and blind justice flow abundantly. Forgive Box's uninspired writing and you'll find skilled pacing and well-developed suspense in what might best be described as "Juno with a body count."


YOUR BIG FAT BOYFRIEND by Jenna Bergen "You can't eat like a man (and still fit in your pants)," the author notes wisely. Read her book to avoid dating-induced flab.

THE BIG SKINNY by Carol Lay A lively graphic memoir about one California cartoonist's battle against the bulge—and how she emerged victorious.

FOOD MATTERS by Mark Bittman Want to lose weight, spend less and help the earth? This smart guide by nutrition guru Bittman will get you started.

In Hawaii last month, Obama toted the fitness book Younger Next Year. It was a gift, an aide explains, and "he thumbed through it." The book he is reading now is The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Thumbing's okay by Younger coauthor Henry Lodge. "I'd love to say he owes his abs to us," Lodge adds, "but that would be wildly dishonest."