Donkey Hodie and the Enduring Joy of Fred Rogers

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Growing up in England, I experienced a completely different ’80s childhood to that of my husband. I was somewhat aware of Sesame Street and Dr. Seuss, but of other things I was completely oblivious. Mister Rogers and his delightful neighborhood didn’t cross my path until I had children of my own, and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood appeared on the scene. While the show evoked happy memories for my husband and friends, for me it was just a lovely kids show that was helping my three year old deal with anger management.

My husband rolled out some of the original Mr. Rogers episodes when we were dealing with my second son’s behavioral issues. While we grappled with words like ADHD and childhood anxiety, Mr. Rogers gently taught him about patience, understanding, and using kind words. While we felt sorely unprepared for this new world, my husband knew that his childhood friend would have just the words our son needed.

In 2021, a year in which we all found ourselves in need of a little hope and joy, a second spin off show would join Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood from the world of Fred Rogers. Premiering in May of 2021 with a second season to follow next year, Donkey Hodie is set in the land of “Someplace Else,” just north of “Make-Believe.” The show follows Donkey Hodie, the granddaughter of Grampy Hodie (the original Donkey Hodie), along with her group of friends as they go through their day solving different problems along the way.

All Images: PBS

From June 6-9, Fred Rogers Productions will be premiering a week of new Donkey Hodie episodes on PBS Kids that will be full of tributes to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. One of the episodes, “The Potato Stand,” will even include a nod to an original Mr. Rogers episode with a “classic Fred” invention, the potato dumper/sorter/washer!

While it’s not specific to adults who grew up in the eighties, I do find that my peers all love searching for references to their own childhoods in current popular culture—Stranger Things, anyone? My husband loves watching these shows with our kids for the references and throwbacks to his own childhood. Here are some fun tidbits from the upcoming shows:

  • The series is set in the land of “Someplace Else,” originally created by Fred on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
  • Purple Panda, Bob Dog, and Harriett Elizabeth Cow all made their debut on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; King Friday has been known to make appearances, too!
  • “Someplace Else” has an incline in the hills, a reference to Fred Rogers’ hometown of Pittsburgh.
  • Grampy’s porch is inspired by Mister Rogers’ porch.
  • Grampy wears a sweater (of course!).
  • Potatoes are a “thing” in both Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Donkey Hodie—there are Tater Buddies, Potato Pirates, Cow and Potato Bug Opera, and now, the episode “The Potato Stand.”
  • Donkey has a toy Trolley in her bedroom.
  • Some favorite songs from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood have been re-imagined for Donkey Hodie, including “Today is New,” “I Like to Take My Time,” and “You’ve Got to Do It.”

Whether you have been a fan of the world of Fred Rogers for thirty years or thirty minutes, his gentle and kind style of programming has a universal appeal that is valued by all generations—at least all the ones living in our house.

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