A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


This month marks my dad's — our granddaughters' great-grandfather — 87th birthday. When he turned 80, I made a huge greeting card for him that featured several famous people also born in 1928. Among those folks was Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister turned children's television programming advocate. He began his educational preschool TV series, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, in 1968, but my childhood was spent with Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room. I'd never heard of Mr. Rogers until a neighbor in Vermont, where we lived from 1979 to 1981, urged me to watch it with our toddler son. He was barely one year old at the time, so I don't know how much he absorbed. But the show became a favorite with him and later on, his little sister.

Fred Rogers has been on my mind these past several days, perhaps because he and my dad share the same birth year as well as the same ethics and values. I was eternally grateful that Mr. Rogers brought morals, values and character education to the forefront of television entertainment. Along with Sesame Street, our children — now 36 and 32 — had the bounty of growing up learning the virtues of friendship, kindness, compassion, neighborliness, helpfulness, courage and caring — to name but a few — these shows offered. Today, amidst the flurry of fast-paced cartoons, I find myself longing for the slower-paced, relaxed and thoughtful children's TV programs again. They afforded children and parents quality time as well to address issues that affect families. Television was not used as a babysitter but as a way to connect with one another, both by viewing those programs together and talking about what was watched afterward. Unless I am wrong, can we really say that about today's children's television shows?

I no longer watch children's television, but I am aware of some wonderful children's musicians who have introduced families to good music with excellent messages. Our children adored the Canadian musician Raffi. Who doesn't love the song "Baby Beluga?" It has transcended the decades from being one of our daughter's favorite songs to now being a cherished song of our son's little girl. In fact, when I asked her earlier this year what her favorite animal is, I fully expected her to give me the typical answer of most two-year-olds: puppy, kitty, pony. Nope, beluga. Beluga?!! Yep, beluga! So Raffi's influence lives on! YAY!

Raffi has gone beyond being only a children's musician. I am delighted to share with you his vision for creating a humane and sustainable world that addresses the universal needs of children. He calls this program "Child Honouring." What a lovely, thoughtful title! What a marvelous, thoughtful human being! More can be discovered about this endeavor in an anthology he co-edited titled "Child Honouring: How to Turn This World Around," offering thoughts on restoring communities and ecosystems. Raffi's efforts have been recognized in Canada as a "vast change in the human paradigm." Wow!

Raffi also refuses to advertise or exploit his talents via endorsement offers. He wishes for a child's right to live free of commercialism, has never directly advertised or marketed to children, and flatly refused a film proposal for "Baby Beluga," fearing the mass marketing campaign targeted at children that would surround any such movie. Lo and behold, I even discovered a connection to Fred Rogers in Raffi's life that honored him for his dedication to keeping his music free of commercialism. In 2006, he won the Fred Rogers Integrity Award for consistently refusing to wed his music to endorsements that market products directly to children. Deservedly so, Raffi has been hailed as "Canada's all time children's champion."

Another amazing children's musician we happily discovered is Red Grammer, who is best known for his music that teaches human virtues. Grammer came on the children's music scene in 1983, the year our daughter was born, although we did not discover his music until we bought the CD "Teaching Peace" in 1990. It was hailed as "one of the top five children's recordings of all time." This album and two others have received either the Parents' Choice Classic Award or The Parents' Choice Gold Award, and the delightful "Be Bop Your Best" was nominated for a Grammy.

Our son and daughter's absolute most favorite Red Grammer song from "Teaching Peace" is "Barnyard Boogie," about a rooster who loves to sound the alarm every morning but in a rather unusual voice. Seth and Katie loved to perform in their grandparents' basement, and this song was the one to which they loved to boogie and pantomime the lyrics. Such a fun little ditty that brought all of us great joy!

That same album was shared with our granddaughters Jain and Olivia, but they had different favorites. Performing for us and their great-grandparents, they sang along to "I Think You're Wonderful" and "Listen." Their sweet little voices brought tears to my mama's eyes. Red's songs have a way of touching his listeners deep in their souls. He sings about food in a way that makes you want to try different dishes from around the world. He speaks of both well-known and exotic places around the world, teaches various ways to say 'hello," and encourages us to listen for the heartbeat of the family of man. All this and more on just one exceptional album.

One of my favorite Red Grammer songs is "The ABCs of You." Found on the "Down the Do-Re-Mi" album, he acknowledges wonderful virtues from A to Z in each of us. Several children have performed this song with him after having memorized this very long and complex list of virtues in alphabetical order! That's the best thing about performers like Red and Raffi. They don't speak down to children, and their songs aren't the kind that adults can't stand to listen to. Watch any of their concerts or go to any of their performances and you'll see parents and children all getting into the groove, dancing and singing right along. That's what makes for powerful musicians and performers: the connection between them and the audience, and a message with which everyone can agree.

Recently, Red has collaborated with Carol McCloud, author of the best-selling "Bucket Filler" books. Excited and encouraged by her message of spreading kindness, appreciation and love — "filling buckets" — he released a CD titled "Circle of Life: Songs for Bucket Fillers." If you are not familiar with this series of books, I encourage you, dear readers, to go to www.bucketfillers101.com to discover these little gems! My granddaughters and I created a family project with little slips of paper that each have a virtue written on them. When we notice someone doing something wonderful we choose the virtue we are seeing in that person and add that slip of paper to their bucket. Bucket filling becomes in every sense of the word a friendly competition, in both filling someone else's bucket and getting your own filled!

Red began his interest in children's music by writing and singing his songs to his sons when they were young. His youngest son, Andy, has obviously been influenced by his father's messages of practicing virtues, as is evidenced by the song "Honey, I'm Good." Andy Grammer's hit about marital fidelity has topped the charts at #9, a clear indication that people are yearning for songs with positive messages. Thanks also to his mom's influence, he was taught to treat women with respect as evidenced by the lyrics to his song "Ladies." And his first big hit, "Hold Your Head Up," encourages perseverance in difficult and trying times.

Keep up the good work, all you positive and wonderful artists! The world needs you! Children, grandchildren and parents everywhere adore you! This tiny marble we are all floating on is a better place because you're in it, and it is, indeed, "a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor." I'm certainly glad you're mine!

Red and Raffi, this 60-year-old grandma still listens to your music! And Andy, you are one of my favorite current musicians! Parents and grandparents, keep playing this kind of music for your children and grandchildren. Share your stories with us of your favorite artists, and remember, as Grampy says,