Steal This Story Time: Won't You Be My Neighbor Day
March 20, 2013 would have been Mr. Roger's 85th birthday. At the Webster Library we celebrated by having our very own Won't You Be My Neighbor Day. The premise was simple (but as Mr. Rogers says, "Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex"). Won't You Be My Neighbor Day encourages everyone to do one neighborly act—and of course, wear a sweater!
I grew up with Mr. Rogers. It is difficult for me to imagine anyone having a childhood without him in it. But on the day of this program I realized that many kids had no idea who he was! Some did know Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood (an animated show produced by the Fred Rogers Company that debuted last year) but suddenly I was more determined than ever to introduce Mr. Rogers to a new generation.
We began the program by listening to "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Every adult in the room automatically joined in. It's impossible not to! Then we read Rabbit's Gift by George Shannon, A Glorious Day by Amy Schwartz, The Rain Came Down by David Shannon, and Madlenka by Peter Sis. Talking, all the while, about generosity and kindness.
For our craft, we decorated tiny boxes filled with chocolate kisses. Each child received two, one to take to a neighbor in their own part of the city (doormen and bus drivers were mentioned a lot) and one for me to keep and deliver to the library's neighbors. Every present had a tag explaining that the library was celebrating Mr. Rogers' birthday, along with a quote from Mr. Rogers about how "one kind word has a wonderful way of turning into many."
The next day while delivering the boxes I was reminded of another important lesson from Mr. Rogers. I will admit, I was a bit nervous. Surprise gifts from strangers don't often go over very well in New York City. I didn't know how people would react. For my first few deliveries, the words tumbled out, I'm sure not making much sense, as I thrust the box into their hands and left. But then I remembered how calm Mr. Rogers was; how he always gathered his thoughts, spoke softly, and gave his full attention to whomever was in front of him. For the rest of the time, I had an absolute blast. Besides ducking in to neighboring stores and restaurants, I also waited in line at the post office, hailed a few random taxi cabs to give gifts to the drivers, stopped a sanitation worker as he emptied the corner trashcan, and gave one to the library's mailman (who always has a smile). People were so appreciative and surprised by our small gesture. And I loved meeting so many neighbors! A program that started out by simply celebrating Fred Rogers turned into an incredible way for the library to strengthen relationships within our community.
For an extra, fun twist, we decided to place 10 brightly colored envelopes around the library (in plain sight) with a message on the front that read: "Hey you! Yes, you! Open me for a surprise from the library." There was a card inside explaining about Neighbor Day, giving the recipient $1 off their fines. It, of course, wasn't much, but it was a small way to thank our patrons (and at the very least, surprise them).
The Fred Rogers Company sent the Webster Library a lovely note thanking us for our Neighbor Day efforts. I encourage all parents/educators to check out their site, along with the Fred Rogers Center (they have a fantastic blog).
Here are some other Mister Rogers resources from the library and beyond:
About Mr. Rogers:
Mr. Rogers and Me (a documentary)
I'm Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers by Tim Madigan
An oral history interview with Mr. Rogers is part of the Archive of American Television. Find out Mr. Rogers' thoughts on television's responsibility to children (and who makes his sweaters).