Mister Rogers Makes a List of His 10 Favorite Books

In 1991, Fred Rogers received a let­ter from an author work­ing on a book about oth­ers’ favorite books. More than like­ly, it was a book about famous peo­ple’s favorite books. But you wouldn’t know it from Mis­ter Rogers’ char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly gra­cious typed reply, above. He opens by apol­o­giz­ing for his late reply and express­es his hon­or at being includ­ed in a “book about what peo­ple read.” What did the most unas­sum­ing and neigh­bor­ly per­son on tele­vi­sion read?

You can see Rogers’ list of ten books tran­scribed below, though his final two choic­es, the Old and New Tes­ta­ments, might count as either one book or a col­lec­tion of many, depend­ing on one’s views.  Roger’s him­self was very clear about his beliefs when he was­n’t onscreen, The ordained Pres­by­ter­ian min­is­ter con­cludes by adding, “If you want to know which one book I con­sid­er as the great­est, my answer would be The Bible.”

Rogers didn’t give any­one who knew him rea­son to doubt his sin­cer­i­ty. What becomes evi­dent in both a recent biog­ra­phy, The Good Neigh­bor, and Mor­gan Neville’s doc­u­men­tary film, Won’t You Be My Neigh­bor, is that he “was exact­ly what he appeared to be,” as Anya Kamenetz writes at NPR. “Some­one who devot­ed his life to tak­ing seri­ous­ly and respond­ing to the emo­tions of chil­dren. In a word: to love.”

  1. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  2. Child­hood and Soci­ety by Erik Erik­son
  3. The Writ­ings of Hen­ri J.M. Nouwen
  4. The Secret Gar­den by Frances Hodg­son Bur­nett
  5. The Veg­e­tar­i­an Times Cook­book
  6. The Angry Book by T.I. Rubin, M.D.
  7. Col­lect­ed Poems of Robert Frost
  8. The Works of William Shake­speare
  9. The Old Tes­ta­ment of the Bible
  10. The New Tes­ta­ment of the Bible

The way he expressed that love, how­ev­er, was quite unusu­al in both reli­gious and sec­u­lar cir­cles. He was, Hei­di Led­ford writer at Nature, “nei­ther zany enter­tain­er nor earnest ped­a­gogue. Rogers was instead a respect­ful men­tor who pro­mot­ed tol­er­ance.” He con­sid­ered the show his God-giv­en mis­sion, but “Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood was reli­gion-free.” Rogers nev­er preached, and nev­er exclud­ed any­one from his neigh­bor­hood.

Anoth­er rea­son his slow, repet­i­tive show had such wide and endur­ing appeal was that Rogers craft­ed each episode to meet preschool­ers’ psy­choso­cial needs, in fre­quent con­sul­ta­tion with his men­tor of 30 years, child psy­chol­o­gist Mar­garet McFar­land. Rogers was well read on the sub­ject and under­stood its crit­i­cal impor­tance to ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion to kids’ emo­tion­al and intel­lec­tu­al devel­op­ment. His ideas “are as rel­e­vant as ever,” writes Kamenetz.

Those ideas include the cen­tral­i­ty of imag­i­na­tive play in ear­ly child­hood, which Rogers offered to many chil­dren who did­n’t get much oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore their cre­ativ­i­ty. His reli­gious faith may have ground­ed his life­long com­mit­ment to mak­ing all kids feel val­ued and under­stood, yet it’s hard not to notice that he lists the two parts of The Bible last on his list.

His first choice is one of the most imag­i­na­tive books ever writ­ten for children—one that doesn’t talk down to them and treats their emo­tions with seri­ous, yet play­ful, respect, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. He fol­lows up this clas­sic with Child­hood and Soci­ety, Erik Erik­son’s post-Freudi­an explo­ration of child devel­op­ment.

On the whole, Rogers’ read­ing list, just like his show, offers a por­trait of a one-of-a-kind fig­ure: a children’s enter­tain­er with an edu­ca­tion­al style that drew sub­stance from the best lit­er­a­ture, social sci­ence, and psy­chol­o­gy of its time, while tak­ing its char­i­ta­ble spir­it from Rogers’ own per­son­al belief in uni­ver­sal love as the most impor­tant edu­ca­tion­al method­ol­o­gy.

via The Neigh­bor­hood Archive

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mr. Rogers’ Nine Rules for Speak­ing to Chil­dren (1977)

The First & Last Time Mis­ter Rogers Sang “Won’t You Be My Neigh­bor” (1968–2001)

When Fred Rogers and Fran­cois Clem­mons Broke Down Race Bar­ri­ers on a His­toric Episode of Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood (1969)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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