Mister Rogers’ Gift of Music by Donna Cangelosi & Amanda Calatzis

Mister Rogers’ Gift of Music is Donna Cangelosi’s debut picture book which is beautifully illustrated by Amanda Calatzis. The book tells the inspirational story of television presenter, Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers), and the way that music helped him to deal with different emotions throughout his life.

The Story: As a young boy Fred Rogers suffered from asthma and spent hours alone in his room. The sound of a violin lifted his spirits and inspired him to learn to play the piano. As he grew older, music helped him through lonely and sad times. Fred wanted to share his music and his television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood enabled him to reach hundreds of children throughout his long career.

Music played a huge part in helping Fred deal with difficult emotions and his piano became his best friend. Through his television show he was able to share songs that he had written with a large audience. We love the lyrical language Donna uses to bring the sounds of Fred’s music to life, e.g. ‘soft sinking sobs, loud rippling roars, and trickles of teardrops.’ This book is such a beautiful tribute to his amazing work.

The layout of this book is beautiful and the way that the text and illustrations flow across the pages complements the content of the text. Darker colours are used to portray Fred’s sad, lonely days in contrast to the bolder more colourful spreads where he’s sharing his music.

A set of activities to accompany the book can be found on the Page Street Publishing website.

Age Range: 5+

Author: Donna Cangelosi / Illustrator: Amanda Calatzis

We are delighted to welcome author, Donna Cangelosi to Story Snug to help her celebrate publication of this beautiful book. We asked her which picture book biographies particularly inspired her writing…


Thank you for having me on your blog, Catherine. I’m excited to talk about picture book biographies. Many books in this genre have inspired me over the years, so it was challenging to choose just five. These are a few of the many outstanding titles that have touched my heart and helped me grow as an author.

ME. . . JANE by Patrick McDonnell
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April, 2011

ME.. JANE begins with a black and white photo of young Jane Goodall holding her toy chimpanzee and transitions to a delightfully illustrated story about her adventures with the chimp. Patrick McDonnell’s inviting text and heartwarming illustrations show Jane’s early fascination with nature and animals. The story ends with a moving photo of Jane and a baby chimp reaching out to one another in the wild. This book inspired me to start writing picture book biographies, which changed my writing career and led to my debut picture book, MISTER ROGERS’ GIFT OF MUSIC.

THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS A BOOK ABOUT HENRI MATISSE by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrated by Hadley Hooper
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, October, 2014

In one remarkable sentence, Patricia MacLachlan tells this story about Henri Matisse’s colorful childhood home, which greatly influenced his career as a painter of light and movement. Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper sprinkle rich details throughout the story, inviting readers to see through young Henri’s eyes. I especially love the last spread showing young Henri watching his older self painting a scene resembling a childhood memory. This picture book exemplifies the power of showing rather than telling and writing with just the right words.

VINCENT CAN’T SLEEP by Barb Rosenstock, Illustrated by Mary Grandpre
Knopf Books for Young Readers, October, 2017

With gorgeous, lyrical language, Barb Rosenstock tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh’s life through the lens of his inability to sleep. She uses a refrain, Vincent Can’t Sleep to highlight Vincent’s love of the outdoors and his unending need to create. The story then culminates with Vincent painting The Starry Night. The breathtaking illustrations magnify the lovely text. I often use this picture book as a mentor text to study pacing, use of refrains, and lyrical language.

MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN by Nancy Churnin, Illustrated by Danny Popovici
Creston Books, September, 2017

With her remarkable gift of storytelling, Nancy Churnin weaves this inspiring tale about Dashrath Manjhi who lived in an Indian village where crops didn’t grow and people struggled with hunger. In a village on the other side of a mountain, crops flourished and the people’s bellies were full. Manjhi wondered: “Why should some people have so much and others so little?” Frustrated, he chipped away at the mountain with a hammer, chisel, and steadfast determination for twenty-two long years, eventually uniting the two villages. Brimming with refrains, onomatopoeia, and stunning illustrations, this picture book is a powerhouse of inspiration.

PLAYING AT THE BORDER: A STORY OF YO-YO MA by Joanna Ho, Illustrated by Teresa Martinez
HarperCollins, September, 2021

This lyrical picture book begins with Yo-Yo-Ma playing his cello on the banks of the US-Mexico border at the Rio Grande—the boundary that divides two countries. It goes on to tell Yo-Yo’s story growing up, his love of music, and how he uses his musical talent to build bridges and unite people, cultures, and generations. Joanna Ho’s poetic text gracefully weaves details about Yo-Yo’s musical gift and accomplishments. Teresa Martinez’s illustrations are breathtaking. I was first drawn to this book because it’s about Yo-Yo Ma, but I love how it addresses the power of music and how we are all connected.

Thank you so much for sharing your favourite picture book biographies with us Donna. It’s wonderful that young readers are being introduced to such a variety of inspirational people through picture books.

About Donna

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, NJ. Like Mister Rogers, she helps kids deal with feelings using play, art, music, and of course, picture books! 

Donna’s website / Twitter

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