Reading Rainbow, one of my favorite shows as a child, is returning to teach a new generation about the magical journeys books can take you on, but will do so in a whole new medium. Originally a television program that aired on PBS from 1983 to 2006, Reading Rainbow will now be available as an app.
LeVar Burton, the host of the television show, acquired the “Reading Rainbow” license last year for his new digital multimedia company, RRKidz. Burton recognized the changes occurring in the children’s publishing industry; like the entire industry, things are moving more and more toward digital platforms and he saw a perfect opportunity to reinvent what he did for 25 years on Reading Rainbow: get kids excited about reading books through the use of technology.
“We’re still tying literature and the real world together, and where it meets is in the imagination of the reader, the child,” Burton said. “So I think we’ve really done a good job of translating in a bottom-up reinvention of what was once a television series (into) a new multidimensional interactive experience.”
The app is intended for children ages 3-9 and currently features 150 books that are segmented onto different “islands”, like ‘Animal Kingdom’, ‘My Friends’, and ‘My Family’. Stories come alive through audio storytelling by celebrity actors and “light animations and activities to enhance the story.” It also features customized reading recommendations, a reward program to motivate reading, a parental dashboard to keep track of your child’s progress, and “video field trips” with Burton that are reminiscent of the original program. Additional books will be added to the Reading Rainbow library over time. The app is free, but has a subscription service that costs either $9.99 a month or $29.99 for six months. Currently it is only available for the iPad but an Android app will be released by the end of the year.
Even though he sees the future in digital publishing, Burton doesn’t think the printed book is going to disappear anytime soon. “I do believe we are heading towards a time when we will no longer cut down trees in order to make books,” he said. “Most of our books in the future will be delivered to us in whatever the next generation of content delivery turns out to be and we’re still going to have printed books. It will make books more precious to us.”
And this gives me a perfect opportunity to wax nostalgic and sing along with the Reading Rainbow theme song…”Take a look, it’s in a book, the Reading Rainbow!”