You Are My Friend: The Story of Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood words by Aimee Reid, pictures by Matt Phelan
You Are My Friend: The Story of Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood
words by Aimee Reid
pictures by Matt Phelan
review copy from Abrams Kids
I was born in 1968, the year that Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was first broadcast nationally on PBS and the year before Sesame Street debuted. I grew up watching these shows (and The Electric Company and Zoom) as did my daughter, born in 1993. Yet, my two younger children didn't grow up with these shows, possibly because the oldest child chose the show and also because of the ways that how we watch television shows have changed over the last decade or so. So, while Fred Rogers and his legacy has meaning for me, I haven't had the desire to see the movies made about him or read any of the many books (mostly for adults) by or about him. I almost passed on reviewing You Are My Friend because I wasn't sure how I could build a bridge that would connect my students, largely the children of immigrants from Mexico and South America, to someone seemingly so culturally remote.
Then I read You Are My Friend. By the time I finished the book and eventually finished crying, I knew exactly why and how to make Fred Rogers relevant to my students. Reid devotes more than half of her book to Rogers' childhood, focusing on childhood experiences that are clearly connected to the purpose and vision that guided Rogers' as an adult. In his illustrator's note, Phelan writes that his focus was to "help find the emotional truth" of the boy who grew up to be Mister Rogers, focusing on illustrating with "simplicity, clarity, and sincerity," qualities he in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Phelan succeeds in this fully, capturing Rogers' gentle person and open heart beautifully on every page. Reid ends her book with Rogers' own words, words that, as the author's note reveals, are derived from testimony Rogers gave to the United States Senate "on behalf of public funding for television in which he states his key philosophy:"
You've made the day a special day by just being you. There's no person in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are.
Sharing a key story from Rogers' childhood that involved his Grandpa McFeely, readers learn that it was Fred's grandfather who first showed him the value and beauty of telling children that you like them just as they are and that they make the day special.
There are so many messages adults send children, and in this age of screens and devices, so many messages they receive without us even knowing. And, while we know so much now about the effects of growing up in poverty (which 50% of public school students are currently experiencing along with a the fact that, according to a major study by EdBuild, non-white school districts receive $23 billion less than white districts, despite serving the same number of students) and the effects of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) as well as the importance of trauma-informed care, I think that we sometimes forget the power of simply saying to a child (yes, this bears repeating),
You've made this day a special day, by just being who you. There's no person in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are.
Behavior is communication, and I am constantly hugging students and looking them in the eye when I speak to them, but words have power. As a child and adult reader of children's books, I have always been drawn to stories where an adult takes an interest in the young protagonist, recognizing that which is special in her/him/them, and I realized as I read You Are My Friend, tears streaming down my cheeks, that is exactly what Fred Rogers did professionally and personally, reaching so many children and adults and leaving a legacy of kindness and honesty as well as one that lifts up the importance of social-emotional learning.
Back matter includes a brief biography of Fred Rogers, a bibliography and author and illustrator's notes.