Readers of my work and followers of my Facebook Author page know that Fred Rogers is one of my greatest heroes. I loved watching Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child, and Mr Rogers himself profoundly shaped me as a person, parent, teacher, and artist. Watching the show helped my autistic son Benj learn how to be more expressive, empathetic, and creative and my fiery, impulsive second son, James, how to be both more patient (he so loves Mr Rogers’ song “It’s Very Very Very Hard To Wait”) and more compassionate towards his big brother.
I must confess that I was a bit apprehensive when I first heard about a new animated TV show featuring Daniel Tiger from Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood. But as soon as I read that Angela Santomero of Blues Clues was working together with The Fred Rogers Company on Daniel, I was confident that it would retain the whimsical charm and sensitive respect for children that characterized Mr Roger’s Neighborhood while carrying Mr Rogers’ sensibility and vision forward for a new generation of viewers. I watched the first episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with my now 13 and 10 year old boys and my 10 year old stepdaughter, and we were all enchanted, delighted, and touched. It’s an adorable, sweet, smart show that uses the latest research on how children learn and grow in the least heavy-handed way. If I had very young children, I’d have them watching Daniel Tiger every single day. As it is, my teen and tween kids insist on DVRing it and we sometimes have Daniel Tiger marathons on weekends!
A few months ago, I reached out to Angela Santomero on Facebook to tell her how much we loved the show, and she wrote back in such a lovely, warm way. After reading my book, The Anti-Romantic Child, she asked for a phone conversation with me, and that hour passed in a flash as the two of us discovered numerous points of connection and found ourselves in a mutual admiration society. I am delighted to share with you a Q &A I did with Angela via email; in the upcoming weeks, look for me to reciprocate by answering questions on her blog, Angela’s Clues!
Angela Santomero has been changing the way children watch television for over fifteen years. She is a Founding Partner and Chief Creative Officer of Out of the Blue Enterprises LLC, overseeing the creative development and research of all of the company’s projects, with a mission and vision to bring educational entertainment to a whole new level.
Angela is the lead creator, executive producer, and head writer for Nick Jr.’s landmark preschool show Blue’s Clues. Currently, Angela is the Creator, Executive Producer and Head Writer of the Emmy-nominated and #1 ranked show, Super Why, which helps build preschool literacy skills through fractured fairytales and interactive games.
Angela’s vast accomplishments include leading the production and development of numerous Emmy nominated episodes for Blue’s Clues, Super Why! & Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood; a full-length feature called Blue’s Big Musical Movie; educational Blue’s Clues CD-ROMs and twenty+ books for Simon & Schuster. She is a Peabody Award Winner for Outstanding Children’s Programming and a Gold and Silver Parents Choice Awards recipient. She received a B.A. from The Catholic University of America and a Master’s degree in Child Developmental Psychology from Columbia University’s Teachers College where she was the recipient of the 1999 Early Career Award.
Angela presently hosts PBS’ The Parent Show at PBSparents.org. Her personal blog, AngelasClues.com, approaches parenting from her vantage point as a childrens’ media creator.
Angela grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in New York with her husband Greg, her two adorable daughters, and their energetic dog Oreo. Angela derives inspiration, laughter, and sometimes even notes on her scripts from her girls. Angela’s family is her priority. Some of their favorite activities include: roasting vegetables, singing, reading, skiing, and asking questions about the way the world works.
1) Tell us about your experience of Mister Rogers and his show as a young child- what did he mean to you?
I was that 4 year old who couldn’t sit any closer to the television set when my friend Mister Rogers was on. I talked to him and believed him when he told me that he liked me just the way I was….
2) How and why did you decide to do a new Mister Rogers-inspired show?
The Fred Rogers Company wanted to promote Fred’s legacy in a new show so they spoke to me since Fred and I got to know each other and he was a fan of my first show, Blue’s Clues. I was honored and deeply touched!
3) What were some of the challenges you encountered on the way to putting the show together and getting it on the air?
I think that they had to pry the first script from my hands! 🙂 The idea that I was writing a show for my mentor and friend was a bit overwhelming. The challenges were really about making sure we honored Fred Rogers, stayed true to what his adult fans would like, and also to write a story and characters that preschoolers, today, would fall in love with. Oh, and not tarnish a 40 year old brand. Phew, no tall order!
4) What are some of the most gratifying responses you’ve received to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood?
The way the show has been embraced by children has been wonderful! The adults fans of the original show appreciate the little “nods of love” in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that we have put in just for them. My favorite stories are the ones where parents are telling us that their kids are using our strategies every day! One little boy was singing “Grownups come back” while he was being dropped off at school, another little girl was telling her mom, “You know, when you feel so mad you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four!”
5) Why do you think Mister Rogers is so important to children and families?
The 40+ year old curriculum is a strong child centered pro social curriculum that children and families need today. We all need to be reminded that “Making something is one way to say I love you” or that “I like you just the way you are” or “When something seems bad, turn it around and find something good.” I just love that we are giving parents research based, tried and true strategies that they can keep in their back pocket to use as needed.
6) Do you have any tips or advice for other busy working moms about achieving work/life integration?
Multi task! Have a husband who is actively involved! Sleep!
Really, I just try my best every single day and spend a lot of time hugging my kids and talking with them.
7) What one piece of advice would you give every new parent?
Take the time to stop, play, and try to remember that childhood is so fleeting. I sound so old saying that but I truly can’t believe my own girls are 12 and 9 already. Where did time to go?
8) What gifts do you like to give new parents?
I like to give my favorite books, depending on age of course. We love picture books Ish and The Dot by Peter Reynolds, Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willams. We love chapter books Mandy by Julie Andrews, Time Traveling Fashionista series by Bianca Turtsky. We write a little note in a the books so that kids will see them everytime they read and remember that we were thinking of them when we picked it out.
9) What are some of your family’s favorite movies, books, and television shows?
We love watching our own home movies! Ha ha, we really do! We also love reading a book together, listening to music and then watching the movie or going to see the Broadway show. We just went to Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and loved comparing it to the Disney version, and talking about the direction the director took. We like Good Luck, Charlie on Disney and re runs of The Brady Bunch!
10) Who inspires you (public figures, creative artists, people in your personal life)?
YOU! Truly, I’m inspired by your book and all of your writing. Fred Rogers inspired me to study child development and integrate education with me to elevate television to another level for kids. My daughters inspire me every day with how confident, insightful, empathetic and thoughtful they are. My husband inspires me with his patience and creativity. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, inspired me to write. Gerry Laybourne, first president of Nickelodeon, inspired me to embrace my research side in media. Oprah inspires me….
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