Mining for Heart: “Highlighting the Essential in Biographies” by Donna Cangelosi

After a short lull in posts, we’re back digging into the “heart” of a story. I’m guessing most all of you are familiar with Mister Rogers and know that he made music a part of his show. Here Donna Cangelosi examines music as her focus in writing a bio on Fred Rogers. 

GIVEAWAY! For a chance to win a copy of MISTER ROGERS’ GIFT OF MUSIC, just leave a comment below!

IMG_4511Highlighting the Essential in Biographies by Donna Cangelosi

Writing a picture book about someone as beloved as Fred Rogers felt like a huge responsibility. Reading about his life, I found countless stories about his generous spirit and how he went out of his way to help others. Fred lived by a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exuperey’s, The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Because Fred Rogers was committed to seeing what was special and essential in everyone, I wanted my story to highlight what was most essential to him.

Digging into my research, I discovered that Fred suffered with asthma and was bullied as a young boy. He used music to comfort himself and went on to study music composition in college. In one interview, Fred described music as his first love, the way he expressed himself, and one of his gifts to children. He went on to say, “There is something very mystical and wonderful about how music can touch us. You know it’s elemental….”  Hearing the passion in Fred’s voice, I knew I found the focus of my story. I imagined a picture book, featuring Fred Rogers that would help kids with their feelings: A story beginning with Fred as a boy struggling with asthma, discovering the healing power of music, and growing up to share this gift with children for generations.


Staying true to what was most essential to Fred Rogers, I wanted the opening scene to show the personal way he related to kids. My book begins with Fred in the living room of his studio house: “Fred Rogers looked directly into the television camera. He smiled and sang as if every child in America was in the room with him.” Feeling like Mister Rogers was singing just to them, children sang along, “like a neighborhood choir.”

The introduction felt just right. But I needed a way to transition back to Fred’s childhood struggles. After several attempts to come up with a clever, lyrical way to write it, I decided to simply state: “Fred hoped music would help children as much as it helped him when he was a boy—” This gave me a way to show Fred’s special relationship with music.

To carry the music theme throughout the book, I watched many episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and mined through his catalogue of over 200 tunes in search of themes. Although I found many wonderful lessons and messages in his lyrics, I knew I had to choose just a few important takeaways. Thinking of my own work with kids in my psychology practice, I focused on what young readers need most. And what better way to keep Fred’ music central, than to weave his own lyrics into the text. As the story unfolded, I highlighted how Fred’s tunes gave children joy and taught them ways to manage uncomfortable feelings. With his gift of music, he made everyone feel seen, understood, and special. 

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Writing a picture book about Fred Rogers was not only a responsibility, but a true honor. Fred often said, “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.” As kidlit creators, we all have the opportunity to share our gifts with children—to help them grow, learn, and discover their own unique gifts.

_MR_ROGERS_COVERDon’t forget to leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing for MISTER ROGERS’ GIFT OF MUSIC! (US addresses, please. Winner announced 10/14/22)

And…when you enjoy a book, please take a moment to support authors and illustrators by leaving a review with online booksellers.

Bio: Donna Cangelosi enjoys writing stories that entertain, enlighten, and inspire young readers. Her debut picture book, MISTER ROGERS’ GIFT OF MUSIC, illustrated by Amanda Calatzis was published by Page Street Kids, August 2022. When she’s not writing, Donna works with children in her psychology practice in northern, New Jersey. Like Mister Rogers, she helps kids deal with feelings using play, art, music, and of course, picture books! Visit her at





13 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: “Highlighting the Essential in Biographies” by Donna Cangelosi

  1. This is so wonderful! I am eager to read this book both as an aspiring author and as a ‘child’ of Mr. Rogers. I absolutely loved his show as a child. It was so calming, so welcoming. Thank you for writing this book! I love that you are keeping his presence and spirit alive for today’s children.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The heart of the story” and Mr. Rogers seem to go hand in hand because Mr. Rogers is full of heart! I have so many wonderful memories watching him and the two movies that came out recently about him both made me love him even more. I can’t wait to read this book.

    Liked by 1 person

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