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One of the commonalities of being on television is that people will write you lots of letters. One of the rarities, however, is that the person written to will personally reply to every letter. As always, Fred Rogers was a true rarity. Dear Mister Rogers is a collection of letters written to and responded by Mister Rogers. His writing style is very similar to his speaking style — you can hear his words as you read them. I suppose that makes sense, as his persona on his television program wasn’t really a persona — but the real Mister Rogers.
The letters range from the funny and silly to the sad and scared — but each one, as Mister Rogers makes clear, is important, and so is the letter writer. Even the more light letters reveal a lot about the children and Mister Rogers grabs onto that and knows exactly the right thing to say to address the child and praise them for taking the time to share with him their feelings. Mister Rogers also includes commentary on some of the letters, and some of the letters he would also send to the parent — though there really isn’t a difference in the tone, just the content.
Perhaps the best thing about his letters is that Mister Rogers doesn’t talk down to the children who write him. My favorite example is when he explains the concept of ambivalence to a child of three who is dealing with a grandmother with Alzheimer’s and is confused by her conflicting emotions of love and hurt when her grandmother says mean things. Ambivalence is an emotion that I sometimes wonder if even some adults fully understand, and Mister Rogers explains it perfectly to this little girl in a clear-to-understand way that uses the PROPER words for things — AND lets her know that this is a perfectly OK feeling to have.
Some of the letters made me tear up a bit, as well as Mister Rogers’ responses to them — completely non-judgmental, caring and being precisely what was needed, while making clear that Mister Rogers couldn’t know everything about people as he was only a television friend, but their friends and family also loved them and COULD help the most. Mister Rogers was a genius and a man of pure good and love — and it’s books like this which make it obvious why he is my hero.