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Around the Neighborhood - Volume 1, Number 6

In 1973, Family Communications initiated a print newsletter titled Around the Neighborhood. This newspaper-like publication was largely directed towards parents but included some material for children as well. The information below documents the sixth issue.

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Articles included:



What do you do when you take your child to see Santa Claus and your child looks more nervous than happy? What do you say when your child says: "That doesn't look like Santa Claus"?

Fred Rogers has felt concern about these and other questions with his own two sons and other children. The concern has prompted him to write two programs about Santa Claus that will appear this month.

The first program opens as Mister Rogers unpacks a Santa suit from its box. He is especially careful to examine the wig and the beard, because they, more than any other part of the costume, can change a person's looks.

Abrupt changes in a familiar person's face or hair tend to frighten many young children. Remember what a shock it can be for you to meet a friend who has just had his or her hair dyed, or recently started wearing glasses. To a child, an outward change could seem a signal that something inside has changed. You might share the changes you're considering with your children before you go ahead with them: "I'm thinking of changing my hair style. How do you think I would look with curly hair?"

Mister Rogers tries on the red suit, and says he feels funny because it's so big on him. He then asks the children who are listening to imagine who might be able to wear that suit better than he. Chef Brockett is the Neighbor who fits the suit best, and Mister Rogers imagines him as Santa visiting the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

When Daniel S. Tiger -- shy, small, childlike -- hears that Santa Claus is coming, he confides in Lady Aberlin what is on his mind: "I try to be good -- but I'm not always good. I think I'm afraid of Santa Claus. I wish he weren't coming here. He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows if you've been bad or good. Oh, dear."

Children listen with literal minds. Words have not yet taken on those abstract connotations they have for adults. So when a child hears "He sees you when you're sleeping...He knows if you've been bad or good," the child may really believe it is so. Sometimes misunderstanding can seem comical to an older person but it can be very serious to a child. It is up to adults to make clear distinctions between what figures of speech and traditions and fairy tales tell us and what is really so.

Santa appears, and Daniel asks the bearded man if he truly does know and see everything. "Of course not, Daniel," the Neighborhood Santa replies in a gentle voice. "That's just a story someone made up about me." Santa's answer seems to make the tame little tiger feel more comfortable.

The fear your child may be feeling when he comes up against the Santa Claus story might not just be a worry that he won't get what he wants for Christmas. It could be the sense of an ever-present eye, seeing his every thought and action and judging them as bad or good. Every person, young and old, needs to keep a sense of privacy within, to know that his innermost good feelings and mad wishes, happy thoughts and bad dreams, can be kept all to himself, to keep or share just as he wants.

Some children will react to Santa Claus with fear, like Daniel. Other, older children might react to a department store Santa like Cornflake S. Pecially, bursting the bubble of illusion by voicing suspicions about the credibility of this character. Corney thinks that the red-suited fellow is really Chef Brockett dressed up. And the Santa Claus figure replies: "Well you know, Corney, Santa Claus can sound like anybody and he can look like anybody, and anybody can look like Santa Claus too."

A Santa Claus suit is a costume anyone can wear, and the Santa Claus attitude is one anyone can take: an attitude of giving. It is this side of the tradition that is joyful, even for those who don't celebrate Christmas. Somehow, though, the way Santa CLaus has developed as a legend and a tradition, room for fear and misunderstanding has crept in. The intention of these two programs, when Santa Claus -- in costume and in concept -- visits Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, is to help everyone remember that there is an inner privacy which belongs to all and that no person -- costumed or not -- "sees and knows it all."


Don Brockett, all 6 feet and 195 pounds of him, carries a calling card that reads: Don Brockett, Producer, Director, Composer, Writer, Performer. If that seems like a lot, it's not even all. Don Brockett also hooks rugs. And paints ("badly," he says; but he loves it), sews needlepoint, and plays Chef Brockett on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. His appearances on the Neighborhood and in Mister Rogers' Specials are very important to him -- "I never feel like I'm doing a show. I'm not performing; it's real in the most honest kind of way" -- and yet most of his professional life is devoted to his own cabaret productions, musical revues, private performances for a variety of organizations, and, last year, an off-Broadway show called "Sweet Feet."

In the Neighborhood, Chef Brockett runs the bakery. In sympathy with mothers everywhere, he "shushes" Mister Rogers as he concentrates on his baking.

And to show that talk is not all there is to communications, much of his cooking is explained to children in pantomime.

There is also a very special need Don Brockett fills in the Neighborhood. As one parent put it in a letter to Mister Rogers: How good it is that the Neighborhood shows people who are not "perfect" -- who wear glasses, who are old, who limp. Don Brockett is the Neighbor who limps.

The story of his handicap goes back to when Don was a twelve-year-old boy and some difficulty with his legs was first noticed. When the trouble was diagnosed as a deterioration in his hip sockets at 16, he faced a dismal remedy. In those days the only way to help him was to place his legs in traction, held in place with 100 pound weights, for nine months. Don still thinks of this time as "awful" and adds: "I was very sad then. It seemed interminable and I felt sometimes that my parents had just deserted me there." He and Fred Rogers discuss his handicap on the program occasionally to help children realize that such things can be dealt with: "Wait a minute," says Don, "I can't walk that fast."

Taking a good, long, healthy look may help to ease the nervous feelings all of us -- adults and children -- have when we are faced with physical deformities. Such a long look is often treated as an embarrassment to the handicapped person; but it is harder for him or her to be purposely ignored than to be faced in a curious, straightforward way. When Don Brockett talks with Mister Rogers about his problems of walking and the way he handles them, he shows that sincere interest will often be answered with satisfying information.

After the traction, and after another six months in a home for crippled children, Don learned to walk again without crutches or braces. But he was told there was a chance the leg could slip out of the hip socket again. About three years ago, the prediction came true and Don underwent surgery -- a modern and permanent correction -- for his hip. His energy and optimism is such that months before he could walk well again, he was back staging an Opera Ball entertainment, doing a Night Time Special with Mister Rogers (Don took Fred on a car ride so he didn't have to walk), and only a little later was back taping regular Neighborhood shows. Since he was still using a cane and walking with great difficulty, the director would position him in one area, then stop the taping so he could move to the next position, then start taping again.

Don Brockett shares with other members of the Neighborhood an appreciation for Fred's ability to choose the right role for the right person. In Don's case the role of Chef was not only a good match for his talent at pantomime, but a match to an interest he shared with his father as a young boy. His father, dressed in a Chef's hat, demonstrated and sold stoves; he was also a serious food buff and a member of Escoffier, Don loves to cook -- and even more to eat -- but his nighttime performances interfere with complicated cooking so that he and his wife of 13 years, Leslie, put meals together quickly most nights. His love of eating interferes with itself -- he's always on a diet, that up and down kind that leads Don to joke that he's lost 5,000 pounds -- and gained 4,548.

We hope that the appearance of people with handicaps on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and in Around the Neighborhood will be used as an opportunity for parents and children to talk about their feelings and deal honestly with fears and questions. For instance, children need to be reassured that handicaps are not a punishment for being bad. There are similarities and differences in all children. Deal openly and honestly with the differences of children with handicaps, but emphasize the ways that children with handicaps are just like all other children.

So many things go back to childhood -- even the idea behind the magnificent hooded rug Don made for his den. Don was a boy during the depression, and once when some toys were marked way down, his father somehow managed to buy for him a wooden Noah's ark, with each pair of animals carved by hand. Long after he was finished with the loving parades, the grand "shows" he produced with the animals against rolls of paper scenery wound around the legs of a piano bench, the toy lived on to become the inspiration for the rug. "Some of the animals are rather primitive," admits Don, "The swan is a little too fat, but I sure enjoy looking at it."

His home is filled with needlework made by himself and given to him by friends and fellow stitchers. But best of all are his bluejeans, a kind of walking memorabilia of needlepoint and embroidery patches that stand for times, places, people and events that have meant something very special to him. The richness of the life those blue jeans speak of is explained when Don Brockett says, simply, "Everything you see is something anyone can do."


Besides seeing, doing is believing in the world of young children. How about a small-sized Santa costume? Cotton baton that comes in sheets, glued to a string or ribbon, can be tied under a nose for a fine white beard and mustache. Everyone knows a pillow swells the belly under an oversized shirt, and a bright red sock could serve for a stocking cap.


In June of 1972, Hedda Sharapan, Associate Producer of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, took part in the inauguration of the National Center on Educational Media and Materials for the Handicapped, opened at Ohio State University by the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped. Mrs. Sharapan discussed how Mister Rogers' Neighborhood can help handicapped children and their families to feel better about themselves and the lives they are leading. She began by reading a letter from a parent:

"I have a little girl nine years old with brain dysfunction. She has so many social failures, both at home, at school, and at play that she has a very bad self image. She has always loved your program. And one day I noticed that she was especially spellbound while you were singing. And I listened to the words, "I Like You As You Are." Tears came to my eyes as I realized what you were doing for this little child. God bless you for opening my eyes and for giving my daughter such a gift."

The simple, direct message of acceptance and affection, despite limitation and mistakes, comes through to all children who watch and listen to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, but it means something special to the handicapped child. Constant supportive talk and play, Neighbors like Don Brockett and Chrissy Thompson, who themselves work with physical handicaps, and warm, frank discussions of weaknesses, shortcomings, and pain invite the child with a handicap to recognize his fears and express them freely.

Mister Rogers does not speak special words to his television Neighbors with handicaps though. While all children want to feel that they are special and unique individuals, a child with a handicap on the other hand could read rejection or alienation into special treatment. Feeling different, inferior and apart from other children, a child with a physical handicap may become wounded emotionally. It is important, then, that the message of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood that a child with a handicap will hear is the same message that the child next door or across the country will hear. Mrs. Sharapan ended her talk with this thought:

"The education of the handicapped on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is not handled as a singling out of the handicapped but rather by supporting the self esteem of all children. We aim for children, whether they are handicapped or not, to be able to accept who they are and to continue to hope that they may grow, their energies free to strive for the potentials within themselves."


Children often spontaneously try out let's pretend games to try and understand what it might be like to have a handicap. They should be encouraged to do this. They might, for instance, find new ways to "see" without using their eyes, or take a ride in a wheel chair to feel what it's like to need someone to push you, or try to "tell" what they want without using words.


Note: If you miss a program that you or your child is particularly interested in, check with your local station to see when it will be repeated. Give them the program number.

Week of November 5:

Ezra Jack Keats, leading children's author, visits Mister Rogers Monday and Tuesday (#381 and 382). He tells how he got ideas for his book "Apt. 3," and shows his method for making designs in his books.

Week of November 12:

Monday (#386) Mister Rogers and Audrey Cleans Everything talk about how cleaning means work, not magic. Ballet dancers perform on Tuesday (#387) and Wednesday (#388) Mister Rogers tries to identify objects by the way they feel.

Week of November 19:

Santa Claus comes to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe on Monday and Tuesday (programs #391 and 392). The puppets deal with various ideas and thoughts they have about Santa, especially about whether he "knows what you are thinking." On Friday, Chef Brockett opens his soda shop, something he has dreamed about since he was a little boy (#395).

Week of November 26:

Hand-Me-Downs are the subject of some disappointment and some delight (#396, 397, 398). Henrietta Pussycat learns more about the good feeling of sharing.


These are pictures of Don Brockett dressing up in his Santa Claus suit to visit the puppets in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

1. A long white beard on a ribbon goes around Don Brockett's chin.

2. Next Don puts on a curly white wig that covers his own dark hair.

3. A stocking cap with a white pom goes over the white wig. It just fits!

4. Turn around and show us how you look, Neighborhood Santa.

5. And here is Don Brockett, dressed up in his costume with his white beard and wig visiting Daniel at his Clock. Can you see the smiling face of the Neighborhood Baker underneath all that hair?


Around the Neighborhood and the materials that accompany it are published ten times a year by Family Communications Inc., a not-for-profit Pennsylvania corporation. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood is funded by grants from the Sears Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Around the Neighborhood is created for FCI by Media Projects Incorporated of New York. Subscription printing and distribution accomplished by Multiscope, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Executive Editor: Sara Stein
Editor: Susan Tyler Hitchcock
Editorial Staff: Hedda Sharapan, Mary Gale Moyes
Production Supervisor: Jim Macandell
Graphic Designer: Tobias O'Mara

© 1973, Family Communications Inc.

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