STARRED REVIEW
September 2018

The wonderful life of Mister Rogers

By Maxwell King
Review by

Not only is 2018 the 50th anniversary of the national premiere of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” but—as two feature films and this full-length biography attest—it is also a moment when our culture is feeling particularly nostalgic for the Presbyterian minister in his cardigan sweater and sneakers. Maxwell King, former director of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, prepared to write this biography of Fred Rogers by interviewing many people who knew Rogers best—from Rogers’ wife, Joanne, to the attendant who saw him every morning at the gym before his swim and Rogers’ many friends and co-workers.

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Not only is 2018 the 50th anniversary of the national premiere of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” but—as two feature films and this full-length biography attest—it is also a moment when our culture is feeling particularly nostalgic for the Presbyterian minister in his cardigan sweater and sneakers. Maxwell King, former director of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, prepared to write this biography of Fred Rogers by interviewing many people who knew Rogers best—from Rogers’ wife, Joanne, to the attendant who saw him every morning at the gym before his swim and Rogers’ many friends and co-workers.

King offers a comprehensive look at Rogers’ life in The Good Neighbor, from his privileged childhood in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, through his difficult college experiences (dropping out of Dartmouth College to pursue a music degree from Rollins College) to his early days in broadcasting and his meticulous work on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The show was unique in the landscape of children’s television, and Rogers’ fingerprints were on every element. The opening credits feature his hometown of Latrobe; the songs, which he wrote, reflect his deep commitment to social and emotional education; and the puppets embodied characters Rogers first imagined when he was a child.

Rogers emerges from this biography much like I imagine he did every morning from his swim: fresh and glowing with health, secure in his identity, calm and creatively focused. His passions for puppetry, childhood development, faith and music come through clearly. It is undeniably heartening to read about someone who cared so deeply for children and childhood.

Rogers’ ideas will make readers want to cheer. “There are many people in the world who want to make children into performing seals,” he once said. “And as long as children can perform well, those adults will applaud. But I would much rather help a child to be able to say who he or she is.” In a time when antagonism seems to divide us, Rogers’ messages of authenticity, respect and neighborliness continue to refresh.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Maxwell King about The Good Neighbor.

This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Good Neighbor

The Good Neighbor

By Maxwell King
Abrams
ISBN 9781419727726

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