A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers
Fred Rogers’ legacy has definitely been getting a lot of much-deserved attention during the last year. Perhaps it’s because 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Over the last year a new biography was written, a remarkable documentary was released, and Tom Hanks himself is even set to play Rogers in an upcoming movie. And amongst all that fanfare, relatively quietly, the most beautiful children’s book was released as well - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers.
Disclosure: A copy of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was provided to us by Quirk Books to allow for us to write this article. All thoughts and opinions are our own.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is published by Quirk Books - the same publisher as the Pop Classics series. This fantastic series of picture books brings classic TV shows and movies to life - like Kim Smith’s amazing versions of Home Alone and Back to the Future. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood doesn’t technically belong in the Pop Classics series, but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s another perfect example that the folks at Quirk Books are experts at turning my pop culture nostalgia into amazing works of art to share with our kids.
We’ve recently rediscovered Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in our own house as well. We’ve been streaming old episodes on Amazon Prime, and both our 6-year-old and 3-year-old are mesmerized by Fred Rogers and the way he talks to them - which is definitely the appropriate response. I cannot possibly recommend a show to watch together with your kids more highly.
Both kids and I recently watched the famous episode where he sings It’s You I Like with his friend Jeff Erlanger, a young boy in a wheelchair. And I definitely cried a lot. I even listed the moment in my recent article of the things that always make me cry. Our 3-year-old said, “I like Jeff.”
Mister Rogers’ kindness and sincerity can be overwhelming. His sincere interaction with Jeff makes me cry because of how much he cares and how much joy he brings to others. As is always the case with Mister Rogers, I’m left inspired to be a better and kinder man.
But I can’t help but think that some of the tears are from actual sadness - a wistful bit of regret that people can’t act like this more often. Somewhere in the back of my head Mister Rogers’ goodness gets subconsciously compared to everything that’s wrong with the world, and that probably makes me tear up too. And the effect is only compounded when I’m surrounded by my own kids, and I remember how proud they make me with their joy and their kindness.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a collection of 75 songs from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood - including the aforementioned It’s You I Like (which it turns out is just as likely to make me cry in print). The songs are presented as a volume of poetry, and they’re beautifully illustrated and brought to life by Luke Flowers in a cartoon style that reminds me very much of Quirk Books’ and Kim Smith’s fantastic Pop Classics. And, quite frankly, it’s basically the only parenting manual you will ever need.
I desperately want my kids to latch onto these lessons of kindness and empathy that Fred Rogers wrote into his shows and his songs. I also hope to see their sense of self-worth and their confidence grow with his sincere words of encouragement and validation. But, to be perfectly honest, there is something about these poems that shocks me. I’m always stunned by just how much he still has to teach me as an adult.
It will never cease to amaze me just how connected he was to the mind of a child - and just how attuned he was to their needs. He was also well aware of the various ways that society often fails to meet the needs of children - particularly socially and emotionally. He never forgot what it felt like to be a kid, so he didn’t have that unfortunate disconnect that adults so often have.
Using this superpower of his, he delivered many pearls of wisdom to all of us. Take, for instance, the poem Take My Time. In a world where impatience reigns supreme, and parents constantly get on to their kids for going too slow, he wrote an entire song about how it’s okay to want to take your time and do things right. I particularly love how Luke Flowers illustrated this poem with a dad looking at his watch. It hits close to home, because our son is the king of taking his time. I honestly feel like this song not only validates his feelings when he hears it, but it most definitely also serves as a very important reminder to me to chill out.
Just a glance at the titles of some of his poems indicates how deeply he understands kids: I’m Interested in Things, I Like to Be Told, and Some Things I Don’t Understand. Again and again you see the same magical combination of validating the feelings of a child while simultaneously reminding parents what it’s like to be little. And over and over I see the faces of my own passionate, curious kids pop up in my head as I read the words.
With his songs, Mister Rogers was a true champion for the magic of childhood. He let kids know that it’s okay to be a kid. It’s okay to want an extra kiss at night or to hold your teddy bear when you’re scared. He let them know it’s okay to be curious and to wonder. He even challenges them to contemplate what they think is important in life. And, most importantly, he let them know it’s okay to be yourself - and that people can and will love you for it.
Just take a moment to read the words of It’s You I Like and I think you’ll understand why every child could benefit from hearing these poems:
It’s You I Like
It’s you I like.
It’s not the things you wear
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you
Not your toys
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like.
Every part of you
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like
It’s you yourself
It’s you -
It’s you I like!
Almost 20 years after appearing on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and singing his famous duet, Jeff Erlanger, all grown up, surprised Fred Rogers at his induction into the TV Hall of Fame. Rogers rushed the stage in excitement to greet his old friend, and Erlanger delivered to him the most fitting message imaginable, on behalf of kids and adults everywhere - “It’s you I like.”
Maybe this exciting new attention being paid to Mister Rogers’ legacy is because of the 50th anniversary of the show, or maybe it’s just because our collective subconscious decided that we all need his messages of empathy today more than ever. Whatever the reason, I’m proud and I’m honored and I’m thankful to be able to raise my kids with the help of the kind and wise words of Fred Rogers.