How the Muppets of 'Sesame Street' Address Specific Issues

Daniel Hautzinger
Oscar the Grouch by a recycling bin. Photo: Sesame Workshop
Photo: Sesame Workshop

Did you know that all your favorite monsters and characters on Sesame Street have full-fledged biographies, including birthdays, ages, and hobbies – and that some even have Twitter handles? June 1 happens to the birthday of not one, but two Muppets: Oscar the Grouch and Rudy. It's also a banner year for everyone on the show, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. To mark Oscar's and Rudy's birthdays, take a look at some recurring Muppet characters and the issues each is meant to teach and address for children.

Oscar the Grouch

Introduced in the premiere episode of Sesame Street on November 10, 1969, Oscar's defining feature is his grumpiness: he prefers rainy days to rainbows, trash to candy. He was originally orange, but is now so dirty from a stay in Swamp Mushy Muddy that he appears green. Starting in 2016, he began teaching kids about recycling, composting, and reusable materials. 


Rudy

Rudy is a recent addition to the show, appearing for the first time in 2017. He is Abby Cadabby's stepbrother, his dad having married Abby's mom. He's meant to demonstrate different kinds of sibling relationships and model a blended family along with Abby. Even though they're different – Abby is a fairy and Rudy is a monster – they find things in common and share a family.


Julia

Julia first appeared in books in 2015 and made her television debut in 2017, months before Rudy. She has autism, helping children better understand playmates with autism and also providing a figure with which children on the spectrum can identify. 


Cookie Monster

Like Oscar, Cookie Monster first appeared in Sesame Street's premiere episode back in 1969. Although he still loves cookies, he also models healthier eating habits and has begun demonstrating basic recipes and where food comes from with his friend Gonger in the recurring segment "Cookie Monster's Foodie Truck." His distinctive manner of speaking is also meant to allow children with different levels of speaking ability to relate.


Rosita

Rosita, la Monstrua de las Cuevas, or "Rosita, the Monster of the Caves," made her debut in 1991. Before her, Osvaldo, el Gruñón, who everyone met in Puerto Rico in 1979, was the first bilingual recurring Muppet. Rosita hails from Mexico and shares aspects of her heritage as well as Spanish words with the rest of her Muppet friends. She not only provides a relatable character to bilingual children and teaches other children about Spanish and Mexican culture, she has also helped children with parents in the military, along with Elmo, whose father also served overseas. Rosita's father Ricardo suffered injuries during his service and now uses a wheelchair.


Telly Monster

Telly Monster, who debuted in 1979, is an intense worrywart. His methods for coping with his anxiety and frustration can show children that everyone gets upset, and that emotions don't have to be overwhelming.


There have also been Muppets around the world who address more country-specific problems, such as Kami, an HIV-positive Muppet on the South African version of Sesame Street, or ones who appear in special episodes focusing on specific issues, like Alex, whose father is in jail, or Lily, whose family doesn't always have enough to eat and has also been homeless.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, also produces tools and has various initiatives to help parents and children address many of the above issues beyond the scope of the show.