9 Hopeful Books To Read If You Loved The Mister Rogers Documentary 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?'
In one of the talking head interviews in the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Elizabeth Seaman who portrayed Mrs. McFeely on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood says, "He was radical. I know everyone says that, but he was radical!" You probably don't remember Mister Rogers this way; I know I didn't. I definitely remember sitting down to watch his show after school on PBS in the '90s. I remember the puppets, the cardigans, the soft-spoken host and the theme song whose lyrics will never leave me, no matter how old I get. But when Fred Rogers made his debut as Mister Rogers on television in the 1960's, his messages of openness, inclusivity, and kindness in the face of serious issues set him apart. When I sat down to watch Won't You Be My Neighbor? I was expecting to feel nostalgic — I was not expecting to be so moved that I didn't even bother wiping the steady stream of tears from my cheeks until the movie was over.
You don't need me to tell you that we are living in divisive times. And after learning more about Fred Rogers and his life's work, it is clear that we need his philosophy now more than ever. If you, like me, walked out of the theater feeling inspired to live up to the philosophy of Mister Rogers and try to make your little corner of the world a better place, you're going to want to keep that momentum going. And, no surprise here, I recommend books as your next step. The 11 books below all offer some thoughts on hopeful activism that will help propel you toward your own life of radical kindness.
'How I Resist: Activism and Hope for the Next Generation' by Various Authors
How I Resist brings together modern luminaries like author Jacqueline Woodson and Broadway actor Javier Munoz, to tell their stories of activism and hope. The book focuses on how every person can make the choice to help, and insist on standing up and being heard in the face of helplessness.
'Hope In The Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities' by Rebecca Solnit
With Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit takes a look at centuries of activism to argue that radical thought does not always see positive consequences immediately, and that the measure of our acts are not always knowable or measurable. In arguing this, she makes a radical case for hope in the face of the unknown.
'Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice On Love And Life From Dear Sugar' by Cheryl Strayed
Tiny Beautiful Things could be described as a beautifully written lesson in empathy. In her Dear Sugar column, Cheryl Strayed answered hundreds of questions about pretty much everything you can think of: love, grief, career, parenthood, growing up, moving on, and more. And she explores each of these in such a universally human way that, even if you have never experienced any of the above, you will feel as if she is speaking directly to you. To help others, you have to understand them, and this book will get you there.
'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's inspiring TED Talk about feminism and the future of the world is written with humor and levity while in the face of insidious discrimination. Inclusivity was a hallmark of Mister Rogers' philosophy and here Ngozi Adichie offers an artfully nuanced explanation of why the modern gender divide is harmful for women and men alike, and how we can face this head on.
'Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think' by Hans Rosling
Sometimes it's easy to look at the news and feel like there is nothing left worth fighting for. But that is simply untrue, and if you need the facts and figures on that, you should read Factfulness. Hans Rosling argues that the world is not quite as bad as it may seem, and that by arming ourselves with the the truth about our concerns, we can become better equipped to face them head on.
'Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion' by Gregory Boyle
If Father Gregory Boyle's memoir of compassion doesn't have you comparing him, at least a little bit, to Mister Rogers himself, you're not reading the same book. Tattoos on The Heart describes Boyle's time working with young gang members in Los Angeles, proving how collaboration and encouragement can change young people's lives, and how we can all learn to fight despair and meet the world with a loving heart.
'How To Be A Person In The World' by Heather Havrilesky
Heather Havrilesky's modern advice book was actually called "A Book To Give You Hope" by The Guardian because it takes a realistic look at some of the biggest concerns of 21st-century life, and offers encouragement that even the world's biggest worrier will appreciate. After all, even Fred Rogers had moments of self-doubt and fears; and if you're hoping to get past your own this book is a great place to start.
'Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success' by Adam Grant
We often hear that being a giver means you will be exploited and burned out to the point that you can't reach your own potential. But Adam Grant, professor at Wharton, argues the opposite in his book, Give and Take. According to Grant most "givers" actually achieve extraordinary things, even more so than many so-called "takers." If you need some inspiration to take time to help others while on the road to your own success, this is it.
'The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers' by Maxwell King (Sept. 4)
And if you're looking for an even more in-depth portrait of Mister Rogers after the documentary, this upcoming biography will definitely do the trick. The Good Neighbor, the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, tells the story of this uniquely beloved and enduring American icon through original interviews, oral histories, and archival documents that trace Rogers’s personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work.