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

As a child born at the beginning of Gen-X, I remember watching Mr. Rogers singing his way into my living room when I was 4 years old. I would sit in the same 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 always suffered colds and ear infections. However, 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.

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 those of you later generations, Gen-X grew up in the 1970s and had access to only three major television networks, and a couple of local networks and PBS. Our family lived in southwestern Michigan, and because of our ginormous outdoor antenna on a tower outside our home (like the one below), we could get ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates from South Bend (Indiana), Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids (Michigan) and WGN in Chicago. The best PBS station we could get via antenna was WTTW, Channel 11, in Chicago. 

There wasn’t children’s programming at all times of the day on a vast number of networks as there is today. 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. 

For Gen-Xers 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 library app.

My purpose for reading the book is because I admire Mr. Rogers and I wanted to know more about this TV icon.  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?  I had questions about all the things. 

This book gave 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 another 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.  

Even though the overall writing of the book was sometimes hard to maneuver, and the editing could have been more proficient, I finished the book. It was because I wanted to conclude the mission I started — to know more about the man I grew up with, and his legacy. However, for any reader without a history of knowing Fred Rogers, they may not feel compelled to finish the book because of it’s many dry and slow-moving portions.  

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

Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate, there may be links in this post, which if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission that helps support this blog. You are in no way obligated to use these links.

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