Out of the 'Mouths of Babes' Come Disarming Questions


Dear Mister Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in YOur Neighborhood?

By Fred Rogers

Penguin Books

185 pp., $9.95, paper

During nearly three decades as America's "television neighbor," Fred Rogers has won the hearts of children and parents everywhere. His calm manner and gentle smile invite intimacy and encourage dialogue.

Many viewers - small or tall - find themselves longing to move into "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." In the end, they settle for writing letters to him asking advice, sharing worries or good news, and simply being friends.

"Dear Mister Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood?" is a collection of these letters culled from decades of correspondence. Rogers takes pride in answering every one that arrives at his office, and the book includes many of his replies.

For most children, the magic of television is a source of constant confusion, and this shows up in many of the letters. "I wish you accidentally stepped out of the tv into my house so that I could play with you," writes five-year-old Danny.

Four-and-a-half-year-old Philip puts it simply: "Do you live in there?" The question prompts Rogers to relate a story about the little boy who came up to him in amazement and asked: "How did you get out of the box?" Rogers explained in his inimitably patient way that television is simply a way to show pictures. Keeping things simple is the key, he advises parents.

The little boy nodded vigorously as if he understood and then asked: "But Mr. Rogers, how are you going to get back in?" So much for keeping it simple.

When four-year-old Rebecca wants to know if it ever rains in his neighborhood, Rogers explains that the television neighborhood is set up inside a TV studio. They don't often do what it takes to make it look like it's raining.

"I know it's not always a 'beautiful day' outside, but I like to think we can make it a 'beautiful day' inside because we enjoy having a television visit together," he writes. Only Rogers can pull off such sweetness and light with impenetrable sincerity.

That's what this short book is all about. It's a testament to the power Fred Rogers has to connect with children. He obviously sparks their imaginations and gives them the freedom to wonder and ask.

Every one of these letters comes from a deep yearning to spend more time with a trusted friend. Four-year-old Amanda comes right out and says it when she writes: "Please come for dinner. I will cook. Thank you."

* Laurel Shaper Walters is a Monitor staff writer.

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