Upon looking at the humble man changing into an old cardigan and sneakers, singing children’s songs on a decidedly low-budget set, one would never know he came from a well-connected family. And one would never imagine that the modest figure who, as an adult, kept his weight at 143 pounds as almost an act of faith was one the boy so many teased as “Fat Freddy.” Yet, as readers of The Good Neighbor learn, both these aspects of his growing up had the notable influence on his persona of Mister Rogers. On the other hand, Mister Rogers and Fred were exactly one and the same. “What you see is what you get.” Readers of this thoughtful biography learn that, too. Remember, this is the man who told every child, “I like you just they way you are.”
Rogers, with his traditional values, may have seemed old-fashioned. However, as an educator, he was—if anything—ahead of his time. Psychologists and child-development experts were just understanding how critical a child’s early years are for both learning and cultivating emotional maturity and well-being. (One of these, Dr. Margaret McFarland, was remembered recently.)
“Human kindness will always make life better,” Mister Rogers is quoted in the book. Two of his most memorable episode are included:
- His conversation with Jeff Erlanger, a boy who used a wheelchair to get around. (The two would reunite many years later.)
- The wading pool “swim” with Officer Clemmons, a bold statement against segregation. At the end of the episode, Mister Rogers dries off the officer’s feet.
That last point is worth bearing, as it is reminiscent of the life of Jesus. The Good Neighbor goes into considerable detail, exploring Rogers’s religious life—his upbringing in a traditional Presbyterian family and his college work at the seminary, both of which would infuse Mister Rogers, both the man in the cardigan on TV and the real-life figure.
Another area in which Fred Rogers had a passion and talent is music. The reader of The Good Neighbor will learn about how he created—played and actually composed—music. The admiration Rogers had for musicians—and musicians had for him—was evident on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; these many memorable moments are revisited.
“Fearless authenticity” describes who Mister Rogers was, both on screen and in real life. “It’s you I like.”