108 of 109 people found the following review helpful
Amy Hollingsworth's "The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers" grew out of the author's correspondence over nine years with the legendary children's TV host. Part author memoir, part Christian devotional, and part biography of Fred Rogers, the book takes readers on a journey through the life of author and the Christian discipleship of the man behind "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
Asked in 1994 by her employer to do an interview with Fred Rogers, a man not given to interviews, Hollingsworth was able to secure that interview by sticking up for Rogers in an editorial response she wrote to a snarky article by a New York journalist that condemned Rogers as nothing more than a panderer to self-esteem and the latest pop psychology. So the author lays out the beginnings of her friendship with the gentle man whom she later credits with saving children's television, particularly PBS's version of it.
Her stories of Rogers get to the one side of his persona that he kept very quiet, his Christian faith. In his younger days, Rogers started off as a puppeteer on a children's show and saw the need to bring the Gospel into the way that television reached out to children. To this end, he enrolled in seminary, only to find resistance to his being ordained. The ordination board did not know what to do with a man who did not want to pastor a local church, but instead wanted to pastor every person who watched a children's TV show he led. But Rogers's insistence that the Holy Spirit was able to speak truth even through the airwaves convinced the seminary board; he was ordained in the United Presbyterian Church.
The show he became famous for first debuted in Canada, then came to PBS via WQED in Pittsburgh. Rogers lived right down the street and walked to the studio every day. And that was the kind of person Rogers was. He was always given to the simple, the quiet, and the vulnerable even as a child. From the people in the neighborhood he grew up in, he learned that the small things matter. Hollingsworth relates Rogers's encounter with an elderly woman who taught young Freddie how to make his favorite breakfast, toast sticks, using this encounter as a backbone of the book.
The best parts of this book are the little revelations. Hollingsworth tells of Rogers and his seminary buddies going on a road trip to hear a famous pastor speak, only to find a substitute preacher--and a boring one at that--putting the congregation to sleep. Rogers was incensed by this, only to turn to the woman seated next to him and notice her crying because the message spoke to the deepest part of her need. Rogers decided at that point that it was unwise to be judgmental because he could never know how the Holy Spirit was touching someone. Hollingsworth also tells stories that viewers of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" relate concerning how the show changed their lives. Some of these stories, particularly the teenager who was horribly abused by his parents throughout his early years, are worthy of five hankies. Another revelation is that Rogers cultivated deep friendships with many famous people. Of particular note to me was that Rogers was close friends with Henri Nouwen, the Catholic priest and author of classic books like "The Wounded Healer" and "The Return of the Prodigal Son."
One of the other truths that comes out of this book is that God blessed Fred Rogers with an enormous creative gift. He wrote 900 episodes of his show, penned over 200 songs, performed the classic background piano music, and was the voice behind most of the puppets in the Land of Make Believe. Hollingsworth does an excellent job showing how that creative bent allowed Rogers to draw children to him and share the Gospel of Jesus in the same way that the Lord blessed the little children who were presented to Him. Knowing that Rogers got up every day at 5AM to read the Bible and pray only reinforces the reality that he brought that time before God into every show he made.
If there are any complaints against "The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers" they lie in the brevity of the book and the lightness of the entire narrative. Fred Rogers is about as teflon a personality as ever walked the earth (the author even discusses the urban legend that thieves stole Rogers's car, only to return it the next day when they learned it was his), but more discussion of the man's flaws and how he used his faith to overcome them would have been appreciated. This book is as close to fawning as any biographical work you'll ever read.
That said, I met Fred Rogers when I was at Carnegie Mellon University. See, I literally lived in Mister Rogers's neighborhood of Shadyside in the Pittsburgh suburbs. I'd see Rogers walk to work at WQED almost every day since my dorm room was right next to the PBS station's studio where he taped his show. Getting to talk with him from time to time proved to me that he was everything we saw on TV and more--an example for all the people who ever watched "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and grew up to be better people because of the simple faith of Fred Rogers.
A very good book about a very good man. Definitely worthy of your time.
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2005
I have a connection to Mister Rogers because he answered my sister's letter to him with a personal letter back. This book describes the spiritual dimension behind his incredible kindness. The author carried on a friendship and correspondence with Fred over the years. Thankfully she documented all the correspondence and organized them into a beautiful remembrance of the man. It is not just full of platitudes but gives Mr. Rogers some real depth. My admiration for him grows everytime I add some more knowledge of his life. You find out the real strength behind his patience and kindness was Jesus.
The author organizes each chapter methodically with a series of lessons she learned from Mr. Rogers. She has done a nice job documenting the human inspirations for Fred as well. Who knew of his friendship with Henri Nouwen?
I didn't want the book to end. I found a lot more spiritual depth than you might expect from a children's televsion host.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2005
When Amy Hollingsworth scored a rare interview with Fred Rogers in 1994, it began a relationship of letters and phone calls between the two that spanned eight years, lasting until three weeks before his death in 2003. It culminates in this compelling inspirational book, THE SIMPLE FAITH OF MISTER ROGERS: Spiritual Insights from the World's Most Beloved Neighbor.
Using the analogy of "toast sticks," a treat Rogers cited as a milestone in his childhood, Hollingsworth gathers up the "spiritual toast sticks" Rogers bequeathed to her --- toast sticks of the heart (inner disciplines), for the eyes (seeing others), and for the hands (using practical things we've learned). She adeptly weaves snippets of her own life throughout, exemplifying the influence Rogers had on her life.
Hollingsworth paints a portrait of a disciplined, contemplative man of deep faith ordained by the United Presbyterian Church as an evangelist with a unique charge to serve children and families through television. And rather than conform to what passed for quality children's programming, he determined to chart his own course. "I'm so convinced that the space between the television set and the viewer is holy ground," he told Hollingsworth.
There was no frantic Sesame Street action in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Each of the 900 episodes opened with a traffic light flashing in yellow. Slow down, was the message. Take time. "And so, for me, being quiet and slow is being myself, and that is my gift," Rogers told Hollingsworth. "Sometimes slow is better: in understanding, in learning to be patient, in 'going deeper' spiritually," observes Hollingsworth, a self-confessed Type A, hyperactive person.
Rogers also used the unlikely medium of television to teach about silence. Hollingsworth relates the story of cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing a composition on the show and Rogers telling children: "Let's take some quiet time to remember, to sit and think about what we've heard." And he did. Silence, Hollingsworth says, wasn't dead air to Rogers --- it was thanking the God who inspires and informs all that is nourishing and good. "Fred may have considered silence his most important legacy."
Right next to feelings, that is. Rogers referred to himself as an "emotional archaeologist," Hollingsworth writes, wanting to get to the root of what motivates people. As a child, he was overweight and teased by bullies. He wanted someone to tell him it was okay to feel bad. As an adult, he encouraged children to open up about their feelings through setting an example of vulnerability on the show himself. His plea for public television as a venue for teaching about feelings helped him sway the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications to come through on a $20 million grant for the medium in 1969.
"It's one of the most important parts of the Neighborhood, knowing that feelings are all right. You know, that you don't have to hide them and that there are ways that you can say how you feel that aren't going to hurt you or anybody else. If there were a legacy that I would hope for the Neighborhood passing on, that's certainly one of them."
Rogers, Hollingsworth shows, carefully structured his life. He rose every morning at 5 a.m. for prayer. He swam at 7:30 a.m. (after singing "Jubilate Deo" out loud, a song taught to him by his mentor Henri Nouwen), worked, then went to bed at 9:30 p.m. He ate no meat and drank no alcohol. "It isn't difficult to see why a man with this level of discipline would be able to cultivate an interior life that would inspire awe in others," writes Hollingsworth.
His spirit was contagious. He once quieted five thousand rowdy Boston University graduates at commencement by inviting them to sing, "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." He befriended inmates he taught in a maximum-security prison. "Love Boat" star Lauren Tewes credits his show with giving her the strength to kick her cocaine habit. He inspired song lyrics.
Hollingsworth emphasizes Rogers's humility. (Can you say "humble"? Sure you can.) "I don't think of myself as somebody who's famous. I'm just a neighbor who comes and visits children; (I) happen to be on television. But I've always been myself. I never took a course in acting. I just figured that the best gift you could offer anybody is your honest self, and that's what I've done for lots of years. And thanks for accepting me exactly as I am."
We do, Mister Rogers. We do.
--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at email@example.com.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
A friend, who just recently had his 100th book published, once told me that the biography that he most wanted to write was the life of Fred Rogers. I was intrigued.
In the months before Mister Rogers' death, I read the articles that began to appear about him. I even came across an article that he wrote, which appeared in Reader's Digest. What I read confirmed to me that he was an extraordinary man. When I saw that this book had come out, I couldn't wait to read it.
My expectations were high, and I was not disappointed. Just pages into it, an obscure image from the movie review section of the San Francisco Chronicle summarized what I was feeling. On weekends the Chronicle published summary reviews of movies in a pink Datebook edition. Each review was accompanied by a depiction of a man sleeping, looking bored, sitting and clapping, or out of his seat clapping fanatically. It served as a visual summary of how good the movie was. As I read through the introduction and opening chapters of Amy's book, inside I was like the little man who was out of his seat clapping hysterically. I was singing on the inside. This book is a delight.
Not only is it extremely well written, the author made a great choice in how to present the material. It's not a beginning to end life story of Mister Rogers. Instead the author gives an overview of his life in the introduction and sets the stage for what is to follow. The book has more to do with the legacy of Mister Rogers-what we can learn from him-than a chronology of events.
Each chapter covers a different subject. How Mister Rogers lived and thought about solitude and silence, prayer, the work of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, difficult times and other subjects are covered.
The opening chapter on taking time to be alone and quiet immediately captivated me. Mister Rogers knew that he was a quiet person. He didn't try to be what he was not. I'm not a quiet person, someone might think. The beauty of Mister Rogers' legacy was that he encouraged people to be themselves.
I was inspired by what I read; in fact, I found it to be potentially life-changing. Mister Rogers made taking time alone and being quiet seem so natural. There was nothing mystical about it. Inside I was thinking, yes, this is right. I ought to do this. I received the gentle encouragement. That was Mister Rogers' way.
This book never would have come into being if it were not for an interview. The author was granted a rare interview in part because she came to the defense of Mister Rogers when he was criticized unfairly by a newspaper columnist. That first interview led to return visits and a deep friendship developed. We are fortunate that the author is able to share from her personal experience and correspondence with Fred Rogers. We get the viewpoint of a close friend rather than a detached observer.
I thank God for this book. It's sprinkled with so many simple yet profound and life-changing truths. It's full of practical wisdom that can be mined by ministers, teachers, speakers or anyone else for the anecdotes, quotes and ideas. I hope that it will always have a place in my library. It's a book that I didn't want to read through too fast-one that I didn't want to end.
I think one of the things that make the book and Mister Rogers so special is that we are given a glimpse of Christ that we seldom see. Fred's gentleness, kindness, tenderness and love remind us of that part of Christ's nature.
Fred's life makes me realize that too many of us are a product of our environment and culture. We absorb too much of it. Mister Rogers was so different! He was so unique that people made fun of him, but he bore it all with the grace that was so characteristic of him. I joke to myself that he would never have been invited to speak at a Promise Keeper's rally, but maybe he should have been. Men, and women, could learn a lot from his example.
I never grew up watching Mister Rogers, but I sure enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to anyone. It's packed with gentle encouragement that will warm your heart. If we allow ourselves to learn from Mister Rogers' legacy, we can help make it a better neighborhood for all.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2006
Being a Presbyterian minister who attended the same seminary as Fred Rogers (albeit many years later), I was intrigued by "The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers." When Mister Rogers passed away, I had scanned the newspapers and the internet about glimpses into his life of faith. I found little, and what I found were platitudes. All I really knew about the faith of Mister Rogers was that he took it seriously, and he was ordained in the United Presbyterian Church as an evangelist to children. Guessing that Mister Roger's faith did not fit the stereotypical protestant evangelical mold, I was even more intrigued when I discovered that the book's author, Amy Hollingsworth, worked eight years as a writer and researcher for the 700 Club.
The book is part eulogy and part devotional. It effectively plays on emotions although not in a manipulative way. Intellectual biography or systematic theology is not the intent. Don't expect it. Through the book, we take away simple lessons from the life of Fred Rogers on prayer, forgiveness, quietness, etc. In some ways, the book is really about the author as she struggles with these lessons. In fact, some of the best anecdotes are about her life, not Mister Rogers. Nonetheless, I met Mister Rogers in this book (after having met him countless times on television).
More importantly, I have a glimpse into his faith. That faith is profoundly influenced by the gospels, authors like Henri Nouwen and Madeleine L'Engle, books like the "Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and his own studies of child development psychology. That faith is disciplined by prayer, scripture reading, the singing of hymns and times of quiet. I'm sure there are doctrinal issues with which Fred Rogers and I would disagree, but I cannot disagree with the kindness, compassion, and love of this gentle man. Someone once asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" It would be hard to do better than Mister Rogers.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2005
This book is truly excellent and I plan to give many copies to friends and relatives as gifts. At first I wondered what Hollingsworth could say that wouldn't simply be a paraphrase of Fred Rogers, but soon realized this is far more than that, and well worth taking the time to read quietly. Thank you, Amy Hollingsworth for letting us share your friendship with this amazing man!
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2005
Amy Hollingsworth does a superb job of sharing not only the incredible impact that Mister Rogers had in her life, but in the lives of countless people of all ages. It was so refreshing to read behind the scenes stories that reveal the same wonderfully warm and caring character of Mister Rogers that was broadcast daily into the homes of millions. I personally have very fond memories of watching Mister Roger's Neighborhood nearly everyday as a child. As a psychologist, I know how powerful the principles and values shared and lived out by Mister Rogers are and am very pleased that they are so thoughtfully and eloquently remembered in this exellent book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who truly desires to learn, or be reminded of, some of life's most important truths.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2007
This book is nice, and a great way to remember Mr. Rogers, who evidently was as wonderful a person as could ever be. But it is written from a very personal point of view--so if you are looking for more of a biography or profile of Fred Rogers this is not the one. Some reviewers have complained about the overt Christianity in the book. Hello! He was a minister after all! And a Christian one! Anyhow, the author gives many examples of how Mr. Rogers was never too busy for her and her family, even though they were not close friends. Pretty cool.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2005
This is a wonderful book. I wish I had read it when my sons were little, as they watched Mr Rogers Neighborhood. It made me smile, then cry, realizing what a devout Christian he was, and the gentle way he brought children to believe in themselves. I would highly recommend to parents of young children....as a teaching method in their own homes. Also... a must read for anyone who needs a quiet refresher on the true meaning of "Love thy neighbor".
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2005
When I received this book as a gift, I tore through it in two days. Not because it is an "easy read" but rather because it gave me a chance to visit with a dear friend who has earned his eternal rest. Fred Rogers was and is one of the most influential persons of faith of our times; and a Presbyterian minister.
A Pittsburgh Theological Seminary graduate, Fred Rogers found his calling to ministry in a different sort of pulpit, one that took him from fledgling public television's WQED Pittsburgh into the homes and hearts of children and all who have a childlike faith.
Amy Hollingsworth is a pastor's wife and reporter and it was as a reporter that she first interviewed television's Mister Rogers in the early 1990s. The interview turned out to be the beginning of a friendship between two prayer partners and Christians.
Amy and Fred wrote and spoke often, especially when they were facing life transitions. Sometimes they sensed from afar that the other was in special need of prayer, and then found out afterward that had indeed been the case. Amy Hollingsworth explores some aspects of Fred's Presbyterian faith as it was expressed on the air and in his daily living.
Hollingsworth uses the image of "toast strips" (a favorite after school childhood treat of Fred's) as the headings for many chapters that deal with his concepts of neighborhood, the importance of time, the work of the Holy Spirit, the power of forgiveness and what to do in difficult times. Again and again, I found myself reminded of how Mister Rogers' ministry touched mine, as an exemplar of what it is to live a Christian life.
People have asked me "What was Fred Rogers like in real life?" and the answer is, "Exactly the person you see on his show; even more so." Simple but always profound, caring to the utmost degree, Fred always hand-wrote his letters, always talked about things that mattered, always treated the people in his life with thoughtfulness. Read more about this remarkable Presbyterian and his life-ministry suffused with grace, by reading Amy Hollingsworth's book.
If you find this review helpful you might want to read some of my other reviews, including those on subjects ranging from biography to architecture, as well as religion and fiction.