The flurry of interest in Mister Rogers’s Neighborhoodhas brought back good memories, in particular of one special little boy seen in a couple of self-portraits of the time, who used to wait in anticipation of what would come next as Mr. Rogers put on his sweater each morning. If you haven’t seen the movie or the PBS special documentary, I recommend them.
Several items were of particular interest to me. His advocacy for diversity as he and Officer Clemons washed their brown and white feet together came early in the show’s history and continued in other episodes as both men aged. His special guest of a child in a wheelchair became a favorite episode, not only to his viewers, but for Mr. Rogers himself. The scope of tough children’s issues were addressed whether they were fearful, puzzling, exciting, or sorrowful along with many episodes designed just to be fun and interesting. A surprising turn of events was his testimony before Congress supporting PBS and its educational programs such as his. The gentle man with a powerful presentation saved all of them for children in the years to come.
Two of my favorite people joined forces when Ezra Jack Keats made several appearances on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and they became fast friends. Mr. Rogers liked reading books by this kindred spirit on his show. One of my favorite episodes is the one where Ezra shows Mr. Rogers how to make marbleized paper. As you hear their childlike amazement when each paper comes out so wonderfully different, it doesn’t seem a stretch to consider how both men appreciated the complexity and differences in humans, particularly children, around them as well. This episode can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTJRbmOhj0U.
Mr. Rogers claimed that he had an inner child that never went away. Keats answered an interviewer’s question about how he was able to reach children so well in his books with the explanation, “I am an ex-kid.” While I’m not too sure about the accuracy of the “ex” in Ezra’s statement, we could take a lesson from either of them about honoring and valuing children.