Reading Rainbow: An Amazing Program That Shattered Expectations for Years

Reading Rainbow inspired generations with its enchanting blend of storytelling and exploration. Discover how this iconic show shaped the way we view the world of books.

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LeVar Burton with kids in Reading Rainbow promo

For more than two decades, Reading Rainbow was more than just a television program; it was an enchanting journey through the world of books and imagination that left a mark on generations of young minds. From its humble beginnings in 1983 to its conclusion in 2006, this PBS program continues to be celebrated for its role in promoting a love of reading.

The Birth of a Literary Icon

Reading Rainbow was the brainchild of Twila Liggett, who had a passion for reading and teaching. In an interview with Mental Floss, Liggett stated “I wanted to do something to mirror what I did in the classroom, which was read to kids out loud, get kids involved in the experience of reading, and have kids talk to each other about reading.” With this in mind, Liggett partnered with Cecily Truett Lancit and Larry Lancit at Lancit Media Productions in order to push this idea further.

Twila Leggett giving speech at a conference

LeVar Burton was later chosen as the host of the series. The actor was already best known for his role as Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking miniseries Roots. Burton’s unique combination of recognizability, passion for reading, and relatability made him a natural choice to connect with viewers. However, what truly set him apart was his genuine passion for literature and a deep belief in the transformative power of books. His personal commitment to promoting literacy resonated with both children and parents, making him a trusted and enthusiastic guide on the literary adventures showcased in the program.

Kids surrounding Levar Burton as he reads a book

The show’s format was simple yet effective. Each episode featured a carefully selected children’s book, brought to life through animated sequences and narrated by Burton himself. Viewers were transported into the world of these books, immersing themselves in the story’s characters and settings. One of the show’s signature features was the “field trip” segment, where LeVar Burton would visit various locations related to the theme of the book. These real-world excursions provided a tangible connection to the stories and helped children see the relevance of books in the world around them.

Fostering a Love for Reading

Throughout its more than two-decade run, Reading Rainbow remained true to its mission of fostering a love for reading among children. It encouraged them to explore the world of books and literature, making reading an exciting and accessible adventure. The show’s catchy theme song, Butterfly in the Sky, and its tagline, “Take a look, it’s in a book, a Reading Rainbow,” became synonymous with the program and introduced viewers to the concept that books were gateways to endless adventures. The show’s mission was clear: to make reading exciting, accessible, and enjoyable for young minds.

Kids sitting on a bench reading books

The series would transform books into vivid, immersive experiences with engaging storytelling and animated adaptations. Host LeVar Burton’s warm and relatable demeanor made literature come alive, connecting with viewers on a personal level. The show’s “field trips” to real-world locations encouraged active participation, as it often featured young readers sharing their own book recommendations.

Additionally, the companion materials and the Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest inspired creativity and writing skills among children, further reinforcing the joy of reading. Through its multifaceted approach, Reading Rainbow instilled a lifelong passion for books, making reading not just a skill but a cherished adventure.

The Impact on Literacy and Education

Reading Rainbow was more than just entertainment; it was a catalyst for learning. The show received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including multiple Daytime Emmy Awards. Its impact extended beyond the television screen, as it encouraged children to explore the world of literature beyond the confines of the show.

Kids standing in line reading books

The companion Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest inspired countless young writers and artists to express themselves through storytelling and creativity. The program’s reach was extended through classroom materials and outreach programs, making it a valuable resource for educators nationwide. Teachers often used episodes of the show to supplement their reading curriculum since each episode featured a carefully selected children’s book.

The series also helped enhance students’ vocabulary and comprehension skills. Teachers could pause the program to discuss unfamiliar words or ask comprehension questions to ensure students understood the story. The series’ interactivity also included adding writing prompts and activities related to the featured book. These materials encouraged students to write creatively and express their thoughts about the story. Lastly, the featured books explored diverse cultures and perspectives, introducing students to different cultures and promoting discussions about diversity and inclusion.

The Legacy Lives On

While Reading Rainbow ceased regular production in 2006, its legacy endures. The passion for literacy and dedication to promoting the importance of reading in children’s lives continue to shine through the writers’ and producers’ work. The show’s episodes and educational materials are still accessible through digital platforms, ensuring that new generations can benefit from its timeless message.

LeVar Burton reading Amazing Grace book in library

In a digital age where screens often dominate a child’s attention, Reading Rainbow has stood the test of time in its promotion of writing and storytelling. Its impact on generations of young readers and its role in fostering a love for books cannot be overstated. As long as there are books to be read and stories to be told, the path to imagination and knowledge remains open.

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