Revamping Reading Rainbow for the Digital Age


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By Nicole Martineau, Associate Publicist


If you grew up in the ‘80s or ‘90s, you’ve probably heard the exciting news that Reading Rainbow could be making a triumphant comeback, all thanks to LeVar Burton’s Kickstarter campaign. The mission of the campaign is to raise the $5,000,000 needed to bring Reading Rainbow back for “every child, everywhere” through the Web.

“You take advantage of where kids are. Back in the ‘80s that was in front of the television set,” Burton told The Verge in a recent interview. “Today, you have to have access to the web.”

After launching the Reading Rainbow app Burton and his business partner, Mark Wolfe, discovered the power of using tablets to get children excited about reading. In a guest post on the Common Sense Education Blog, Burton explains the success of the iPad app: “Building on the basics of the television series, we put hundreds of quality books – and educational video field trips – right in a child’s hands, and it has been a HUGE success…we have proven that kids will come to the tablet not just to play games, but to read!”

Since the app launched two years ago, 9,382,747 books have been read in-app and 6,485,519 videos have been viewed. While these results are indeed phenomenal, Burton acknowledges that a lot of kids do not have access to the technology needed to enjoy the app: “By bringing Reading Rainbow to the web – and especially to schools – we can reach those kids who are at risk of falling through the cracks.”

According to a Huffington Post statistic, Burton’s campaign goes far beyond raising enough money to revive the series. If the goal amount of $5,000,000 is raised by July 2, over 7, 500 classrooms and low-income schools across the country will receive free Reading Rainbow online subscriptions, currently priced at $60 per year (similar to the iPad app).


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While the majority of the Internet embraced the idea of bringing back the popular series for the digital age, not everyone was pleased. In a Washington Post article titled “You might want to reconsider that donation to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter,” Caitlin Dewey reminds consumers that Reading Rainbow is a for-profit company, not a charity, and therefore may not be the best vehicle for teaching literacy to children. Dewey encouraged consumers to instead donate to non-profit organizations, such as the Children’s Literacy Initiative or the Washington, D.C.-based First Book.

When asked about his thoughts on Dewey’s remarks in an interview with ThinkProgress, Burton had this to say:

“I’d just like to address momentarily the idea that ‘you’re not a non-profit company, you’re a for profit company.’ Well, yes, we are. And the idea that Reading Rainbow was free when it was on television is really a mischaracterization of the way PBS works. There may have been no immediate costs to the consumer, but it wasn’t free. It was paid for by the government, and by viewers like you.”

Agree or disagree with the method in which Burton is funding a revival of the popular series, there’s no denying that Reading Rainbow is an effective tool that has instilled a love of reading in millions of people. With all of the technological distractions in today’s world, there has never been a better time to introduce this program to a new generation of children in dire need of encouragement to read.


Related: When It Comes to Connecting With a Teen Audience, John Green Gets It


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