As a child, I was one of Mister Rogers’ television neighbors. He was a companion and a storyteller. He made a point to illuminate the arts, show how things were made, and address challenging topics. I felt good when I was in his presence.
Mister Rogers knew how to speak to children. He calmed their fears, accepted them, and encouraged them to express their feelings in healthy ways. He was inclusive, curious, and compassionate. Mister Rogers embodies the kind of attention and caring that we hope to instill in our children. He was the very best kind of role model. Children and adults need him just as much today as they did when his show was on the air.
I started my research in the summer of 2017, knowing that the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was to be celebrated in 2018. FRED’S BIG FEELINGS came out in January 2020, so the whole process took 2 ½ years, which is a very short timeline for a picture book to move from conception to publication!
Fred Rogers is such a public figure that I didn’t have to look far for a lot of great research material. And this was before Maxwell King’s incredible biography, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, came out! One of the best sources was an archive of taped interviews that Mister Rogers did late in life that spanned his childhood through the end of his career. I also delved into the history of early children’s television to give myself the background knowledge I needed to speak about that time period. This was more difficult. I tried to nail down some specific references to children’s programs that Fred Rogers found shocking without much success, even after consulting with a television historian. It was all fascinating research, though! And so much didn’t make it into the finished book.
Once, the research was complete, the next challenge was to find the right voice for the text. I wanted this biography to reach out to children in a way that was warm and accessible, just like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. But I also wanted to share his childhood struggles and his passion for quality children’s television. When I landed on framing the biography through the lens of feelings, the content and the voice found the right balance.
At last, the text was brought to life by the colorful illustrations of Brigette Barrager, which project a vintage-feel while also drawing the reader into Mister Rogers’ life and imagination. I couldn’t be happier with the final result.
I hope that all the attention Mister Rogers has been receiving since the 50th anniversary of his show in 2018 helps a new generation of children come to know this special man who understood children and cared about them deeply.
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About the author:
LAURA RENAULD is a picture book author. Her most recent title is Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers. When she is not writing, Laura can be found at the library, working in the garden, or sharing her love of reading and writing with children. She also created the Debut Review Challenge to support authors and illustrators who are promoting their first book. To learn more about Laura’s books, school visits, or how to participate in the Debut Review Challenge, visit her website at www.laurarenauld.com.