New Reading Rainbow Documentary Merits Theatrical Release

This Reading Rainbow documentary celebrates children’s love of reading and brings new hope to a fading book culture.

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Rainbow in back with Butterfly in the Sky movie poster on the left and Reading Rainbow poster on the right

An innovative documentary by Bradford Thomas and Brett Whitcomb, titled Butterfly in the Sky, about the adored 1980s PBS kids’ series Reading Rainbow, is now set to have a theatrical release.

Butterfly in the Sky Poster with a drawings of a butterfly, astronaut, planet, spaceship, sphinx, hot air balloon, globe, television, and book, all along an ascending rainbow.

The film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2023, will be in select AMC theaters on March 13. It will then be released digitally to streamers like iTunes and Amazon on April 30.

An Important Film for Moviegoers

The directors of the film have backed the theatrical release by saying, 

Having both grown up in Texas, Reading Rainbow not only reflected the diverse cultures that surrounded us, but LeVar Burton also introduced us to other worlds in colorful and magical ways. We believe Reading Rainbow is among the most important shows ever produced and a true unsung hero of children’s programming. It’s important for us to honor its legacy and teach a new generation about this milestone in television history.

Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb via Variety
Reading rainbow poster of LaVar Burton smiling against a blank background with the show logo beneath him.

Reading Rainbow is possibly one of the best-known children’s shows of all time and was once the most-aired PBS program in school classrooms. Having launched in 1983 as an attempt to remedy children’s lack of summer reading, the show aired for twenty-three years and earned more than 250 awards. 

In addition to accolades, Reading Rainbow was a staple for its diverse list of celebrity guests, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Maya Angelou, Susan Sarandon, Jeff Bridges, and James Earl Jones. These notable people joined LeVar Burton in bringing a love of reading to millions of children for over two decades.

Butterfly in the Sky Celebrates the Love of Reading

The documentary tells the story of Reading Rainbow through archival footage and interviews with the show’s co-creators and guest stars. Burton stated,

To take a look at Reading Rainbow through [the directors’] lens and share this story with audiences everywhere is very special. I hope audiences walk away with the same warm, fuzzy feeling I did when I watched this documentary for the first time.

LeVar Burton via Variety

The documentary comes at a time of increased screen usage and decreased reading over children’s adolescence. According to a Scholastic Kids and Reading Report fewer children are identifying themselves as readers and as kids age they place less importance on reading. 

Founder and CEO of XTR — the producer of Butterfly in the Sky — Bryn Mooser said,

Like millions of kids all over the world I grew up watching and loving Reading Rainbow. Butterfly in the Sky is such a powerful and joyful reminder of the essential importance of children’s literature.

Bryn Mooser via Variety

One Mother’s Perspective

As I write this, my children are watching a YouTube video of Mario Odyssey, a new favorite way for them to have their screen time. Despite my efforts to limit screens — putting the remote where they can’t get it and setting timers to limit the blocks of time they spend with their blue light hypno-machines — I am struggling to get my seven-year-old son to choose reading over video games and television. 

As a kid with no cable and few video games (Gameboy and Sega, anyone?), I began relying on books for entertainment as soon as I began to read. Urged by my competitive nature and much older siblings, I began reading chapter books in kindergarten and had read three Harry Potter books by the age of eight. Despite nightly reading sessions, it is different for my children. There are more and more options for how to spend screen time, and despite limitations at home, screens are increasingly relied on each year in public school systems.  

Documentary still shows LaVar Burton as he is in the present day sitting with his legs crossed in a leather chair in an empty library.

The Butterfly in the Sky documentary brings hope for parents like me that the importance of reading will continue to be celebrated even in the digital age. Newer generations deserve to have a lifelong appreciation of reading that will unlock new worlds and give them a pastime that brings them away from the overstimulation of the screen and into the magical wonder that lies within books.

Are you interested in more articles about Reading Rainbow? Check out this Bookstr article!

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