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BookMark: 'When You Wonder, You're Learning' By Gregg Behr & Ryan Rydzewski

At first glance, “When You Wonder, You’re Learning” by Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski is a standard text on family-based conflict management and resolution. But upon reading the first page, you’ll realize that this book is also a letter of appreciation to Fred Rogers and the Neighborhood he built through a television screen.

I grew up with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I was an inconsistent viewer, but a Neighbor all the same. Reading this book, I was struck by how intentional Rogers was in making sure viewers felt safe enough to learn, to feel, and to fail.

Anecdotes from Rogers’ own life and those who worked with him pepper each chapter. Each story and the revealed scientific backing behind Rogers’ choices drive home that The Neighborhood was a project based on showing children they mattered. Each chapter focuses on one core lesson such as encouraging curiosity, improving communication, or building communities that work together. Each chapter ends with tangible suggestions for ways adults can practice these lessons from The Neighborhood with the children in their lives. 

The last chapter, titled “Such A Good Feeling,” centers on connection. We’re brought straight to The Neighborhood of Make-Believe where King Friday XIII, self-important and high-handed as he is, readies a pronouncement to strike down all fun. Standing high above the citizens of Make-Believe, King Friday XIII is silenced when one of his subjects invites the King to join the festivities. The chapter goes on to remind us we’ve survived this long as a species because of the connections we’ve forged. Our social ties ensure our safety, but they also make us vulnerable. The book uses examples from peer-reviewed science and Rogers’ own life to point to a similar conclusion: because we’re so social, feeling excluded causes emotional and physical pain.

Of all the chapters in “When You Wonder, You’re Learning,” this last chapter encompasses the most important lesson from Fred Rogers and his Neighborhood: to live with love. It takes continual work, but living and leading with love can go far in making sure children -- or anyone for that matter -- have the space to explore exactly who they are in this moment and decide who they want to be in the future.

The strength of “When You Wonder, You’re Learning” is that these lessons teach warmth and compassion by tapping into the memories of our childhoods. The book is a balm for the harsh sting of moments where you could’ve used a better Neighbor or when you could have been a better Neighbor. 

This book would be a wonderful addition to anyone's reading list. Even if you didn’t grow up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood much or at all, I guarantee you have someone in your life who would benefit from you reading this. Some young person you know could use a reminder that you accept them for who they are right here and now, and reassurance that growing up is hard but you’re committed to working through the challenges with them.

Reviewer Tyler O. Jones lives in Boalsburg. She recently finished her master's degree in entomology at Penn State and works remotely with the NPR science desk.

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