This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

March 5, 2003 - Mr. Rogers

My family moved to Douglas County 13 years ago. Our daughter, Maddy, was a little over three years old at the time.

We lived kind of far out in the country, and had only one car, which I drove to work every day. My wife, Suzanne, says as she watched me drive off down the hill she would think, "I am Rapunzel."

Perhaps in part because of her early exposure to country quiet, Maddy has always had a rich interior life. She's a watcher: deep and observant.

At about this time, one of the few TV programs she watched was Mr. Rogers. She would sit, in her serious and thoughtful way, and watch the slow-moving, quiet show daily.

One day, she said to Suzanne, "Mama, I want to write a letter to Mr. Rogers." So Suzanne wrote it for her, exactly as Maddy dictated.

The gist of the letter was this: every day, Mr. Rogers would step into his house, swap his sneakers for slippers, and put on his cardigan. At the end of the show, he'd hang up his cardigan, put on his coat, and walk out the door.

In his slippers!

Well, Maddy got a letter back from Mr. Rogers. He said she was pretty sharp to notice that. But he said he really did change back into his street shoes. The people who did the TV show thought that showing him changing his shoes again was kind of boring, so they just left that part out.

Maddy was perfectly satisfied. And it did not seem at all strange to her that she could both write the guy who was on TV, or that she would get such a straightforward, approving personal response.

But, of course, it is strange. Fred Rogers, born in 1928, and who recently died, inspired that sort of direct, personal confidence. His gentle, reassuring tone was absolutely genuine. Kids knew they could trust him.

Mr. Rogers duplicated this tone in his writings, too. The library currently has some 25 of his titles: 11 picture books, 5 books for older children, 5 videos, and 4 books for grown-ups. The titles show his ministerial background, his willingness to tackle subjects that kids want to know about, and sometimes adults can't figure out how to discuss:

* Going to the potty -- a book that startled me, when I read it to Maddy years and years ago, with the revelation that children sometimes get anxious when they see former parts of their body whisked away into pipes. Never occurred to me.

* When a pet dies.

* Making friends.

* Going to the dentist, and the doctor. Also, "Wearing a Cast."

* Moving.

* Adoption and stepfamilies.

* Divorce. And even:

* Death.

He also tackled some topics just for fun. A musician himself, Mr. Rogers has a video about musical stories. Another of his books is just about kindness. One of his videos is about circuses. But throughout it all, he consistently presented this powerful message: you are special. I'm so glad to know you.

I don't know about you all, but I'll miss having him in our neighborhood.

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