Book Review: "The Good Neighbor, the Life and Work of Fred Rogers" by Maxwell King

February 26, 2020
As a child born at the beginning of Gen-X, I remember watching Mr. Rogers singing his way into my living room as a 4-year-old,  sitting in my usual spot in front of our RCA-TV on the iconic, green carpet from the late 1960s.

Even once I started Kindergarten, I loved to watch Mr. Rogers. I was one of those kids who seemed to pick up all the diseases that kids endured in the 60s and 70s (measles, chickenpox, and mumps).  I also suffered several colds and ear infections.  But being home from school was okay because it meant that I could recover on the couch and watch Mr. Rogers and other shows on PBS. (You can see a photo below.)

I wonder what messages of Mr. Rogers have been buried in my heart and helped me as I grew up, even when I didn’t know it?

For you youngin’s, us old folk growing up in the 1970s had access to only three major television networks, maybe a couple of local networks (such as WGN of Chicago who showed their own programming), and PBS. Our family lived in southwestern Michigan, and because of our ginormous outdoor antenna on a tower outside our home (see a sample below), we could get ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates from South Bend (Indiana), Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids (Michigan) and Chicago. The best PBS station we could get via antenna was WTTW, Channel 11, in Chicago.  

Example of a 1960s & 1970s TV Antenna*
There wasn’t children’s programming at all times of the day as there is today on a vast number of networks.  Shows for kids were only on the three major networks on Saturday morning until noon, and during the week, it was in the early mornings or late afternoons on PBS. 

So for Gen X’ers as me, there was that nostalgic thrill when a documentary (in 2018) a major motion picture (in late 2019) and a resurgence of biographies on Fred Rogers started to appear. 

I wasn’t aware of “The Good Neighbor, the Life, and Work of Fred Rogers” by Maxwell King until I found it while perusing books on my Libby (OverDrive) library app. When I spied this title, I put it on hold immediately, and after a few weeks, the digital copy finally appeared on my shelf. 
My purpose for reading the book is because I admire Mr. Rogers and I wanted to know more about this icon of TV.  How did he become an active child advocate?  How did his ordination as a Presbyterian minister played a part in his programming?  What musical knowledge did he have?  What made the Neighborhood all come together?  And all the things. 

This book did give me the answers to my wonderings about Mr. Rogers; however, there were times I felt dragged down by the detailed, slow-moving narrative.  There was too much repetition in the book; I would reread details about events and co-workers that were already mentioned in other sections.  A complete disappointment was that the book had no additional information about the other person I loved on the show, Lady Aberlin (Betty Aberlin). She was such an integral part of the Neighborhood, yet the author gave no background about Aberlin herself or how she came to be a part of the program, only that she was involved for the entire period of the Neighborhood filming days.  

My favorite parts of the book were the Prologue, which gave a beautiful, encapsulating look at the character of Fred Rogers, plus Chapters 11 and 12.  It was in these chapters that gave a fascinating look inside the mind and heart of Fred Rogers, and how it was a part of every episode, song, and script for the show.  

At 4 years old, sick (you can tell by my face!) & watching TV
I finished the book because I was on a mission to know more about the man that I knew as a young child and his legacy.  The overall writing of the book was sometimes hard to maneuver through, and in my opinion, could have been edited more effectively.  For someone without a history of knowing Fred Rogers, they may not feel compelled to finish the book for its many dry areas. 

I will give this book 3 stars, lower because of the compilation, not because of the biography of Fred Rogers himself.

Looking for your next great book?  Click on the "Book Reviews" tab and see the list of all my reviews by subject.  

*Antenna photo courtesy by B137 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54111270. Edited for better clarity.

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