Kids + Teens

A Reading Rainbow Goodbye

“Butterfly in the sky…I can go twice as high.”

These were the first lines of Reading Rainbow’s theme song in the 1980s. They filled the living room after Sesame Street and Mister Rogers—the end of the PBS children’s weekday afternoon line-up. The song concluded with “Take a look, it’s in a book, a reading rainbow.” There was a fluttering butterfly, a seashore, some brief live-action scenes, a sandcastle…

Just when the cartoon and live-action images threatened to overtake the television screen, a book appeared, the covers opened and the pages calmed the clutter, giving rise to a rainbow. At four or five, I knew that this was all somehow connected to reading, and that books should be an important part of my life.

I was most struck by the kids in that opening sequence reading oversized books and being instantly transformed as they turned the pages. A girl becomes an astronaut—a boy, a king.

Then, during the show, a few kids were introduced by host LeVar Burton’s, “Here are some other books you might enjoy, but you don’t have to take my word for it…”

(GPN/Nebraska ETV Network and WNED Buffalo)

LeVar Burton! Star Trek meant nothing to me, but LeVar was a star just for being associated with so much excitement. (Gila Monsters Will Meet You at the Airport! Miss Nelson is Back! Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain!) I wanted to know him, and certainly to read whatever he’d just featured in an episode.

One of my favorite episodes featured Vera B. Williams’ A Chair for My Mother paired with a dance choreographed to a song called “Teamwork.” The rehearsals were woven through the episode and the final dance performed by the show’s end. The episode managed to link the dance to the themes of the Williams book. The message? Reading might seem like a solitary endeavor, but what the words relayed could create community, they could take you places—they could remind you of whom you love and what you need.

Perhaps this is why the Children’s group here at Chronicle was saddened by the news that after 26 years on PBS, Reading Rainbow aired for the last time last Friday. No more butterflies and rainbows, no more book reviews by kids, no more LeVar Burton (at least on PBS).

Of course, we still have books, and books by their very nature convey that connection to a deeper experience, to what we get out of connecting to words and to each other. We shouldn’t need a television show to relay that message to children. But Reading Rainbow did it so well: The show let children know that reading was a lifelong adventure—not contained in one episode, but an ongoing journey. That with every page there is more to be revealed—with every book, more to be discovered. I partly credit my own love of literature to LeVar Burton’s enthusiasm, to those kids’ book reviews, and to the constant reminders during those 30-minute episodes that life was tied to art, and art to life. That we need books to make sense of the world.

Chronicle’s own Enemy Pie was featured on Reading Rainbow.

(GPN/Nebraska ETV Network and WNED Buffalo)

I’d been meaning to read Enemy Pie, and the news of Reading Rainbow’s final airdate was the perfect opportunity. I can see why Reading Rainbow chose to feature it. The book is entertaining and unique—perfect for any kid whose best enemy has best-friend potential.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Naomi Kirsten
Assistant Editor

Naomi Kirsten

Naomi Kirsten is a Senior Editor in the Children’s Publishing Group. Her projects range from picture books to novelty formats and games. On Twitter: @naomi_kirsten.
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  • Savannah Jane September 1, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    One of my favorite episodes was Piggy In A Puddle, illustrated by James Marshall. Remember the claymation?! It was adorable.


  • Ammie September 2, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Oh, I’m an admitted Trekkie, but I loved LeVar Burton long before that, because Reading Rainbow is a precious haven for children. Farewell. (And, yes, the Piggy In A Puddle claymation was delightful!)


  • ximike10023 July 24, 2010 at 1:46 am

    Oh, I'm an admitted Trekkie, but I loved LeVar Burton long before that, because Reading Rainbow is a precious haven for children.I have learn a lot of things from your article,thank you very much.


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