Thinking back to the few shows that my mother allowed us to watch as young kids, I remember Sesame Street - especially the mysterious Mr. Snuffleupagus that none of the adults could see. The Electric Company & School House Rock - I still remember the songs for Conjunction Junction & I 'm Just A Bill! Talk about earworms. (Sorry if I just one stuck in your head!)
But I especially remember Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. I loved all the places he visited, in person or through Picture-Picture. The way he talked straight to me, but not as if I was "just" a child. But as if I were someone he was truly interested in; someone he wanted to know and spend time with. And he introduced me to so many fun and exciting people and careers.
I recently saw a tribute, produced by PBS, where they talked to many of the cast and visitors to his show. It brought back so many memories and it was fun, as an adult, to learn that each of these people had really enjoyed being guests or regulars. It is a tribute to Fred Rogers and his vision that so many books (adult, MG, and PB) have and are being released about his amazing vision and advocacy for children and public television.
One such book encapsulates a look at Fred Rogers' life and advocacy within the framework of his beloved show. Setting the stage for a look at the connecting thread of acknowledging and validating emotions which runs throughout his entire life.
Fred's Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers
Author: Laura Renauld
Illustrator: Brigette Barrager
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2020)
Emotions, self-confidence, and compassion.
Synopsis (Barnes & Noble):
Fred Rogers was a quiet boy with big feelings. Sometimes, he felt scared or lonely; at other times, he was playful and joyous. But when Fred’s feelings felt too big, his Grandfather McFeely knew exactly what to say to make him feel better: I like you just the way you are.
Fred grew up and created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the television program that would go on to warm the hearts and homes of millions of Americans. But one day, the government threatened to cut funding for public television, including Fred’s show. So, Fred stepped off the set and into a hearing on Capitol Hill to make his feelings known.
In a portrait full of warmth and feeling, Laura Renauld and award-winning illustrator Brigette Barrager tell the story of Mister Rogers: a quiet, compassionate hero whose essential message—that it is okay to have and to express feelings—still resonates today.
It’s a beautiful day. Come in. Look around. What do you see?
This is the closet filled with Mister Rogers’ cardigans. His mother knitted each one! And here’s where he changes his shoes. Sneakers are more comfy, don’t you think?
Now settle in. Mister Rogers is ready to visit with you!
You may know Mister Rogers as America’s favorite television neighbor. But before that . . .
What I liked about the book:
From the beginning, the reader knows this is going to be unlike many nonfiction biographies. The book begins in the second person, inviting the reader behind the scenes of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Brigette Barrager's almost child-like, 2-dimensional illustrations enhance this feeling of a child watching the show unfold.
Then Laura Renauld busts another "rule" and has a flashback to Fred's childhood. Explaining how isolation, bullying, and asthma filled his childhood with sadness, fear, and loneliness. In an interesting design choice, all of the emotion words in the text are italicized - to reinforce the book's focus on Mr. Rogers life's goal to help kids understand and accept their feelings.
The next couple of pages, follow Fred's discovery that music and his Grandfather's message, "You made this day a really special day just by being yourself . . . and I happen to like you just the way you are,” changed his life and the lives of others he interacted with. And reveal the foundation of his determination to provide thoughtful and empathetic programing to children.
Except for two spreads, full of vignettes of Mr. Rogers and children visually acting out their ordinary, everyday emotions with gorgeous child-like manners and enthusiasm,
the majority of the illustrations are full-page spreads. I loved how throughout the book, and especially on these two spreads, Brigette represents every feeling - whether happiness, anger, sadness, etc. - as a stream of hearts emanating from the person, animal, or puppet. A very visual reinforcement of the validity and importance of all emotions, even the tough ones.
While much of the book has older text and images dealing with Fred's career, establishment of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and his struggle with Congress to save public broadcasting, Fred's wholehearted belief that children (or perhaps everyone) should be taught "how to express emotions constructively" is woven throughout.
Younger children will definitely understand the emotions and the flow of the story through the brightly colored illustrations. And the slightly older text would permit this book to easily be used in upper elementary, and even middle grade, classrooms as the basis of, or starting point for, an evaluation of the life and motivations behind Fred's dedication to helping children of all ages find wonder in their world and learn to accept and manage their feelings. And many adults will be transported back by the phrases and glimpses of the show sprinkled throughout the book.
Overall this is a touching tribute to a remarkable man who pioneered children's programing and lead the fight to keep public broadcasting alive. The Author's Note further highlights Fred Rogers' life, goals, and legacy of influence. It seems fitting that Laura ends this delightful book with a powerful quote of his:
“What a difference one person can make in the life of another.”
- play a game of charades and act out all the emotions you can think of. Maybe list them on pieces of paper first;
- draw faces on plastic eggs (or paper plates), or find pictures of kids' faces, experiencing every emotion you can think of. Now, looking just at the picture, can you tell what emotion they are experiencing?
- create a calm down and/or anger corner in your house or classroom;
- write a list or draw an image, of ways that you've learned to express hard emotions;