Blanche’s Book Club: ‘The Good Neighbor’.

I have really been trying to put away my phone more — especially when I’m not working — and do other things I enjoy like reading. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you focus on one thing at a time and actually give yourself permission to spend three hours on a Saturday reading a book.

So, last weekend I finished reading “The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers” by Maxwell King. Here is the book’s description:

Fred Rogers (1928–2003) was an enormously influential figure in the history of television and in the lives of tens of millions of children.

As the creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he was a champion of compassion, equality, and kindness. Rogers was fiercely devoted to children and to taking their fears, concerns, and questions about the world seriously.

 The Good Neighbor, the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, tells the story of this utterly unique and enduring American icon.

Drawing on original interviews, oral histories, and archival documents, Maxwell King traces Rogers’s personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work, including a surprising decision to walk away from the show to make television for adults, only to return to the neighborhood with increasingly sophisticated episodes, written in collaboration with experts on childhood development.

An engaging story, rich in detail, The Good Neighbor is the definitive portrait of a beloved figure, cherished by multiple generations.

I watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a kid and I still remember some of the episodes. But, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book, and it was the complete story of his life, from before he was born until after his funeral.

Some parts of his story were lackluster — and I suppose many of us have rather “normal” stories — but he did a lot for public television and he stood his moral ground in a time when it likely wasn’t appreciated.

Mister Rogers took his viewers on this little journey to show that even in the face of death, things move ahead. That’s the essential message as he sits by the fish grave. Rogers never told grieving children that everything will be all right: no such simplistic reassurances. Instead he shared his feelings about death and loss, and the extraordinary truth, reaffirmed repeatedly throughout the program, that life does go on.

There’s also something to be said about the timing of Rogers’ life and his messaging — I’m not sure it would have survived in today’s times, even when we’ve recognized that we could all use a little more kindness.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed watching Rogers on TV, or if you like biographies. It’s obvious King did a ton of research and work with the Rogers family to bring his stories back to life.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “Loop Group” by Larry McMurtry.

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