Reading Rainbow reborn on the smaller screen

Krystal Peak · June 20, 2012 · Short URL:

RRKidz launched an iPad app that reinvents the popular children's TV program as an interactive app

Butterfly in the sky, I can fly twice as high.

Take a look, it's in a book -- a Reading Rainbow.

That was how each show started off with a childhood favorite of mine, Reading Rainbow. But once I was in middle school I really lost track of this TV gem that excited children about the wonders of reading and, in 2009, the show was finally cancelled. I blame myself really.

Everyone thought that the show cancellation would be all they wrote about Reading Rainbow but there are a lot of children out there now that needed a something to spark their interest in reading since it often seen as less fun than playing Angry Birds. But, lucky for the kids of today, a new chapter has been written on the story of Reading Rainbow.

Co-founder of RRkidz and former host LeVar Burton has been hard at work with producer Mark Wolfe to create an iPad app that brings the whimsy of the television program to the place where most children are exploring -- a tablet.  The new app is now available in the App Store.

The app, created by RRKidz, licensed the Reading Rainbow name and content from public TV station WNED to introduce a whole new generation to the excitement of the written word.

Word came out months ago that the app was in the works and, after some delays, the iPad version has finally arrived. 

I had a chance to hear Burton speak at a recent tech conference and I have to say, he is just as inspiring to the 27-year-old me as he was to the 7-year-old me. 

He explained his true love of reading, stating that “books, for me, have always been the portal of imagination."

He went on to point out that technology has created a double-edged sword for teaching children. While it is clear that we can build countless games and devices for children to learn on, it is still key to keep in mind that parents and other adults need to model constructive behavior for their kids to learn from.

Yes, that means not texting at the dinner table or watching educational videos together rather than splitting off and playing on separate devices. Heck, even have time to put all the gadgets away and remind everyone that face-to-face contact is valuable too.

Burton has some common sense that I need to remember when I procreate. And it seems that this common sense is a central part of the app he helped develop.

The RRKidz' Reading Rainbow app promises to be the right blend of enhanced digital books with some of the engaging bells and whistles that children want from tangible tech devices. 

The RRKidz' company has signed deals with a number of children’s book publishers — including Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Holiday House; Charlesbridge Publishing; Kane Press; Sleeping Bear Press; Peachtree Publishers; and Shenanigan Books — to include their titles in the app. Kids are encouraged to read books on their own, or they can follow along with narration provided by Burton and other storytellers.

"I come from a family of teachers, and when I was offered the opportunity to host Reading Rainbow in 1983, I recognized immediately the value in using technology to inspire kids to read," said Burton in a statement. "Reading will never go out of style, but the tools used for learning are changing. I am excited to bring Reading Rainbow back so that parents who watched the show can now share that same feel-good experience with their own children but on a platform that resonates with today's digital kids."

Like the TV show, the books’ illustrations are brought to life with little animations, and each title comes with a game. Kids are also rewarded by receiving stickers every time they read a new title.  

The app also has an option of “video field trips” — this includes a video segments in the style of the old show with Burton showing the children an environment. 

The Reading Rainbow app will be available for free, which gets kids access to one book plus one video then they are prompted to subscribe for $9.99 a month to gain unlimited access to various titles and videos.

Young parents will likely trust and find a great deal of nostalgia seeing the trusted Reading Rainbow name attached to this project, as well as the much-beloved LeVar Burton.

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