Niles-Maine District Library

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Happy Birthday, Mister Rogers!

Fred Rogers would have turned ninety this week. For nearly forty years, Fred Rogers invited children everywhere to join him everyday for thirty minutes of gentle, developmentally appropriate activities. Rogers flouted conventional wisdom that said children’s television needed brash gimmicks and high production values to capture the attention of young audiences. The Neighborhood was a calm oasis where you could visit with caring people and learn to be a good neighbor. Rogers and his friends took audiences—he called us his “television neighbors”— on fascinating adventures to real world locations. Some of these adventures were to places kids could go in their own hometowns: schools, restaurants, shoe stores, zoos, and of course libraries. But other field trips transported American children beyond borders.

In 1987, Rogers went to Moscow to visit the set of Soviet Union’s most beloved children’s television show Good Night, Kids, and meet the host, Tatiana Vedeneeva. At the time, the Christian Science Monitor reported the story with what can only be described as life-affirming awe:

Two days after George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard LShevardnadze announced their INF arms agreement, two other representatives of the superpowers locked in a warm embrace in Moscow. Far better known to their viewing public than either of the statesmen, the two belong to a growing number of citizen diplomats. The fact that they are puppets manipulated by grown-ups should not make their encounter any less vivid to the millions of children who will see it on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” For when the cheeky piglet, Hryushka, grabbed Daniel, the shy striped tiger, and chortled, `What a nice little one,” the chemistry was instantaneous.

Most importantly Fred Rogers looked straight into the eyes of the children who watched his show and told them they were special and unique. He said their feelings were important. And he assured them they were growing up to be adults whose lives would be filled with love and purpose. This was the real gift Fred Rogers gave through the medium of television. That legacy is every bit as necessary today as it was back then. What’s more, Mister Rogers Neighborhood isn’t a boring kiddie show, it’s every bit as engaging and meaningful for adults as it is for kids. I grew up with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I have fond memories of watching Mister Rogers as a preschooler. I even recall tuning in on days when I stayed home sick from school long after I had outgrown it. And, of course, I cried like a baby on the day Fred Rogers passed away. But when I decided to revisit Mister Rogers Neighborhood in 2015, I underestimated the impact it would have on me as an adult. Even so, I assumed I would watch a few episodes, feel drunk on nostalgia, and be done with it.  But I found myself mesmerized from the opening song to the closing credits. What really struck me was the realization I was staring into a treasure trove of ideas and early learning strategies that are every bit as relevant today as they were in 1968, 1978, 1988, 1998, and 2001 when Fred Rogers signed off on the series finale.It occurred to me that I wanted, nay, needed to share this children’s media treasure with a new generation. So I decided to design a library program Growing Neighbors in which children and their grownups could experience the awesomeness that is  Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. This program is a wonderful way to meet Mr. Rogers for the first time, or get reacquainted with him as an old friend. Join us in May for this after school program for kids and their caregivers.

If you need to get your Mr Rogers fix now, here’s a special treat. In celebration of this birthday and the fiftieth anniversary of his legendary children’s television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the world got its first glimpse of the trailer for the upcoming documentary on his life and work Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Enjoy!

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