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Children's Bookshelf

August 30, 1987|BARBARA BOTTNER

MAKING FRIENDS; MOVING by Fred Rogers (Putnam's: $4.95 each; 32 pp.; ages 3-5). Fred Rogers, or Mister Rogers to you, has come out with a new line of books intended to communicate with children in the same gentle easy-going style he's made popular on television. Illustrated with color photographs, "Moving," and "Making Friends," are both slick, affordable, nonfiction accounts written in simple, straightforward prose that a parent or sibling can read aloud to a young child.

This is all very well and commendable, especially in the case of "Moving," which succeeds in helping children process the woes of separation, the joys of expectation, and explores the emotional side effects of being uprooted; from parents' crankiness to the difficulty of getting a hug. Down-to-earth suggestions are offered: A child can pack some of his own things; he can look inside the moving van, and he can make decisions about decorating his new home. These bits of advice may not come exactly as shocking news, but Mister Rogers uses the balm of reason and understanding to ease the worry of hectic preparations, frantic parents and the terrible unknown of a New Place in a New Neighborhood Without Old Friends.

Although emotions are clearly important in Mister Rogers' world, they are very middle ranged. When I was 5, my best friend was kidnaped from the seat next to me in the Bronx to the Far Off Distant Land of Connecticut. I was inconsolable. Mister Rogers avoids this kind of longing--in fact, he doesn't deal with one-on-one friendships at all--but concentrates more generally on the step-by-step daily changes that take place during a move.

In some sense, this how-to approach to life is helpful as long as it does not obscure the need for the deeper experiences on the same subject rendered in fiction--even picture book fiction--which can provoke as well as soothe, and which can launch a young person into the adventure of reading really excellent work that will encourage him to seek the pleasures of rich and imaginative minds for the rest of his life.

Alas, if Rogers were running for office, good intentions would be his platform, and I would vote for him knowing he didn't stand a chance. The wish in "Making Friends" is to blueprint the process of friendship so that it will be a less messy and uncontrollable process. It tells us that "it can be hard to share your toys, and it can be hard to wait your turn--even for friends. Even a good friend could make you feel so bad, you wish the whole world would go away--or so mad, you might feel like hitting or pushing everybody in sight." Thank goodness for this last sentence. It is the most vivid in the book. Feelings are fluid, but it is exactly the good intentions here that give a paint-by-number quality to emotions, rendering them flattened-out things. Perhaps it is exactly this very quality that enlightens the small volatile people Mister Rogers is talking to; as with a good kindergarten teacher, he underscores the issues of sharing and compromise, and he tries to help the young child negotiate the extreme self-interest that is developmentally his fate. But it makes an older reader wonder whether our inner lives are meant to be freeze-dried at so young an age, and will they taste as good when the water is added later on?

We are information addicts, and here is information that, in the right amount, can be helpful and furrily friendly. I would urge the buyers of these books, however, to use them sparingly, knowingthat the right piece of fiction for their child is also there on the shelf somewhere, just a little harder to find.

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