“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?”
“It’s Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood a land of make believe,
Won’t you ride along with me (ride along..)”
In my own childhood, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was beamed through the aerial antenna on the roof and into our 19-inch TV from KQED in San Francisco. We weren’t allowed to watch much TV growing up, but Mr. Rogers was on PBS! I remember his visits with Mr McFeely, and when he went to the Land of Make-Believe. But mostly, I remember his empathy, his honesty, and his kindness. He was one of the very few men who spoke of love on TV. And now 40 years later, we stream “Danny,” as my son calls Daniel Tiger, through the interwebs onto our 38-inch TV. Yes, it’s a cartoon, and yes, its takes place solely in the Land of Make Believe. But I think it holds true to the values and teachings that Mr. Rogers set forth to impart in his own show. I like it. For me, it’s nostalgic. For them, it’s one of the shows we let them watch.
Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor is a heartfelt biography of Fred Rogers: musician, minister, father, husband, and creator of one of the most popular children’s television shows of all time. King provides a look into all these aspects of Rogers’s life through anecdotes, interviews, and ample research into his influences in TV production and religion, his collaborators in programming and music, and the audiences who tuned in and were able to see it all come together.
King reports on the simple whens and wheres of Rogers’s life while also delving deeper into his legacy. Born into great wealth in western Pennsylvania, he grew up a shy and somewhat sheltered young man, but was able to use music to build a truly special confidence with children. College led to a life partner and an almost snap decision to move to New York and start in television. After learning the basics of TV producing, he made his way to children’s programming. From The Children’s Corner to Misterogers to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, King tracks the evolution of Rogers’s style, advances in technology, and many characters he developed through the years.
My only criticism of this work lies in the book’s haphazard delivery. The chapters vary greatly in length. Some are short while focusing on a certain theme of his life or bio of an influential person, and some are longer and piece together his life story. The book starts out organized chronologically, but departs and it’s hard to get back on track. This makes for a difficult read at times as the reader tries to place events in the timeline of Fred Rogers’s life.
At the heart of this work lies the questions: How did Fred Rogers do it? How did he create hundreds and hundreds of shows over the course of three decades? Part of it was his family’s wealth, that allowed him to adopt great patience and perfectionism. But it was also a lineage of renowned child psychologists, from Doctor Spock to Margaret McFarland, who gave input into many of the challenging subjects that Rogers tackled over the years. The most fascinating part of the book is the description of the process he went through to formulate children’s language, to pick topics, and to write scripts. It is inspirational work that King captures. The Good Neighbor is a solid biography that gives a near-complete look into a great man’s life. Recommended.
4 out of 5 stars
Releases on September 11th.
Thank you to NetGalley, Abrams Books, and Maxwell King for an advanced copy for review.