Eighteen years have passed since “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” completed its 31-season run. Sixteen years have passed since the show’s namesake died. But Fred Rogers remains as relevant in 2019 as he was in 1953, when he developed “The Children’s Corner” for a local television station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Culture writer Gavin Edwards’ Kindness and Wonder examines why Mister Rogers remains a phenomenon nearly two decades after he left television. Part one of the book, “Let’s Make the Most of This Beautiful Day,” recounts how Fred McFeely Rogers became an icon of children’s television. Edwards retraces Mister Rogers’ youth as a shy, overweight child from a wealthy family in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Even as he grew and found people with whom he connected, Mister Rogers never lost touch with that child. He spent the rest of his life helping children see that they were special and loved, just the way they were.
Elements of Mister Rogers’ biography may be familiar to his fans, but Edwards’ careful research is sure to introduce new facts to most readers. Though the section, which spans half the book, would benefit from chapter breaks, it effectively sets up part two, “Ten Ways to Live More Like Mister Rogers Right Now.”
The second half of the book moves quickly, in part because of how deftly Edwards identifies why Mister Rogers remains a legend. Through chapters such as “Accept the Changing Seasons,” Edwards shares some of the challenges Mister Rogers encountered in his personal life—and what we can learn from his responses. The lessons Edwards shares are simple, just like so many of the messages on Mister Rogers’ PBS program. For example, when Mister Rogers found a dead fish in his fish tank, he used it as an opportunity to explain one of life’s biggest, scariest moments. He never hid the truth or talked down to children.
Edwards is well versed in popular culture as the author of The Tao of Bill Murray, The World According to Tom Hanks and nine other books. In Kindness and Wonder, he helps readers see how the lessons from a children’s television legend remain relevant, no matter one’s age.