Canadian author Aimee Reid and the incomparable illustrator Matt Phelan team up for an accessible introduction to the life of Fred Rogers for young readers. Although it is fictionalized, the book incorporates a factual biography of Rogers in the back, as well as notes from the author and illustrator and a select bibliography.
The story begins with an aspect of Fred Rogers’ life that many adult readers may not know: He was a sickly child who suffered from allergies and spent a lot of time inside and alone. In his own neighborhood, Rogers was bullied. Thanks to helpers, including his grandfather, Rogers gained confidence and a strong sense of values that became the underpinning of his groundbreaking television series, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” As the book tells us, “His grandpa told Fred that he liked him just the way he was. He said Fred was special and that, just by being himself, Fred made the day special, too.”
The book includes scenes of Rogers reaching out to other helpers in the community. Although one scene shows Rogers surrounded by a gathering of diverse children, this aspect of the book might have been strengthened by mentioning, for instance, African American police officer Officer Clemmons, who appeared on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Overall, however, Reid’s simple text and Phelan’s soft pencil and watercolor illustrations come together to capture the gentle force of nature that was Mister Rogers himself.