“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
– Fred Rogers
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”
“It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive.”
“It’s you I like.”
“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
If you were a child of the sixties, seventies, eighties, or nineties, then you probably grew up with Mr. Rogers.
This year we celebrate fifty years of Mr. Rogers on the air on public television. Fred Rogers started out at the PBS affiliate in Pittsburgh in the 1960s. A pastor who was called to ministry through television, he found himself hosting a children’s program and there discover his true passion. His gift for addressing kids remains unsurpassed.
His show was always simple, without any bells and whistles or fancy sets, but that simplicity allowed Fred Rogers’ genius to shine through all the more. His gift was addressing children on their level. He was honest with them about the hard stuff. But he was also comforting and loving in delivering his message, and he always encouraged children to find strength in themselves and believe in themselves, because each child is special and unique.
How much we need to be reminded of Mr. Rogers’ message these days. He was such a gentle, beautiful soul, and he saw only one solution for the world’s problems: kindness. He believed in the goodness of others. He relished the ability to wonder, and he encouraged children to do the same.
One of Mr. Roger’s most powerful gifts was his ability to appreciate. Whether he was listening to the music of Yo Yo Ma or Wynton Marsalis or watching children share their gifts on his show, his expression always radiated love and admiration.
It’s pure, timeless magic.
How can you revisit the magic today? It’s easier than ever.
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood
Mr. Rogers is streaming on Amazon Prime! Seasons 1-7 are included with Prime. It’s an easy way to revisit all the classic episodes. I’ve been re-watching them with my eight-year-old, and she loves them. I never realized this until recently, but Mr. Rogers was one of the original champions of girl power.
Do you remember the Land of Make Believe? It was Mr. Rogers’ creation, a world of imagination populated with handmade puppets all voiced by Mr. Rogers himself. In one episode, the pipes burst, causing flooding in the kingdom. The owner of the plumbing business called to fix them is a young African-American woman in pink coveralls, the owner of several businesses. I was so impressed at how he portrayed a woman of color as an entrepreneur at a time when seeing this on TV was a true rarity, and continues to be all too rare today. What a way to teach little girls that they can do anything.
Season 2 of Mr. Rogers contains some real treasures: he visits with a boy in a wheelchair, Jeff Erlenger. This was one of Mr. Rogers’ favorite television moments. He was able to show his audience of children that Jeff was a normal child full of love, hope, and dreams, just like themselves. What a beautiful thing.
In Season 2 Mr. Rogers also gets to do one of his favorite things, showing how things are made, with a visit to a crayon factory. In a different episode, there’s also a special visit from Big Bird to the Land of Make Believe.
Finally, Mr. Rogers makes a special point in a couple of episodes of talking to children about divorce. He helps them to understand that it isn’t their fault. Sometimes grownups’ relationships can’t be fixed, but parents will always love their children, no matter what.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
The animated Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, perfect for preschoolers, is also streaming on Amazon, and you can find it on PBS Kids. Mr. Rogers’ Land of Make Believe inspired Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and parents will recognize many familiar characters in the story.
The character of Daniel Tiger was originally a puppet. As one of the children in the Land of Make Believe, Daniel Tiger often expressed concern, and the grownups were lovingly able to reassure him, answer his questions, and allay his fears.
In Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Mr. Rogers’ original character has grown up and had a son, who is the star of the show. Prince Wednesday lives in the castle with his family, including King Friday. Katerina Kittykat lives in the treehouse with her mother Henrietta Pussycat. Miss Elaina is the daughter of Lady Elaine Fairchilde and Music Man Stan. Mr. Rogers’ legacy is alive and well with this show.
It’s You I Like
Check PBS On Demand for this sweet, family-friendly documentary. Hosted by Michael Keaton, who got his start on Mr. Rogers’ show (who knew?!), It’s You I Like features interviews with familiar celebrities, some of whom were guests on the show, and others who were simply impacted by Mr. Rogers growing up.
The documentary highlights some of the beloved segments of the show, which ran for 900 episodes (wow, that’s a lot of sweater changes!). In a memorable moment, Mr. Rogers invited Margaret Hamilton, the actress made legendary for her role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Mr. Rogers was able to show children that Margaret was a regular person, and that her character was just pretend. Margaret even put on her witch costume to demonstrate how she transformed herself for the camera.
One of Mr. Rogers’ favorite things to do was showing how things worked. He also loved to reassure children if they were frightened that everything was going to be okay, and that it was okay to be sad sometimes.
Here is a clip that was often played just after 9/11 (not a part of the documentary), because sometimes, it’s good for grownups to be reminded that they aren’t alone. There will always be helpers, people who care, to help us through the hard times.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Won’t You Be My Neighbor is now playing in theaters! Check back for a full review later this month.