Mark your calendars: the classic and much-beloved children’s television show Reading Rainbow is coming back in early 2022.
After more than 15 years off the air, the show will return to airwaves as Reading Rainbow Live, and it will feature a diverse and rotating range of comedic troupe performers as hosts. The return was prompted with the pandemic and how parents have struggled to both balance their needs and those of children they are responsible for helping at home schooling. Executive producer Steve Beer said Reading Rainbow Live was developed as a life-saver in response.
“We know it was a tough pandemic for parents, for caregivers, for teachers. We wanted to make sure that we have kids engaging with books and we’re going to use movement and music to engage kids in learning,” Creative Director Amy Guglielmo told CBS News. “And we really want kids to see themselves in the books that we’re choosing, and we’re going to use diverse creators, authors, illustrators, settings.”
Reading Rainbow launched in 1983 and was hosted by LeVar Burton. It was the most viewed PBS program in classrooms, and it earned over 250 awards, including a Peabody, nine Parents’ Choice awards, and 26 Emmys, before it went off air in 2006. The original format of the 25-minute show will remain the same, giving young viewers the chance to learn through music, field trips and cultural experiences, as well as a book of the day.
Burton will not be part of the Rainbows, the name given to the cast of hosts, but the Rainbows will be diverse. Guglielmo noted that producers wanted to ensure viewers would see themselves in the episodes. They’re in the process of securing a final cast member.
“We think the rainbow, this fun and diverse ensemble cast, will allow children to identify with these hosts, and it’s just a totally new experience and it’s truly an experience,” she said to CBS news.
In addition to watching the show, kids will be able to interact virtually with Reading Rainbow Live with the platform Looped.
“[A]udience members will have the chance to engage, play games, and even have an opportunity to be featured ‘on stage’ during each episode of Reading Rainbow Live. Whether they are asking questions of a cast member, following along to a dance routine, or being rewarded for answering a question correctly, viewers will be motivated to participate, and parents will be gratified knowing that their children are being entertained and intellectually stimulated,” said the news release. For children and viewers unable to watch or engage with the show live, episodes of Reading Rainbow Live will be made available for streaming.
Books featured on the show will also be diverse and selections will be made with the help of a diverse panel of librarians, educators, childhood literacy experts, parents, and children. They plan to utilize lists generated by experts from the American Library Association and We Need Diverse Books.
LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow launched a mega-successful Kickstarter in 2016, with the goal of raising one million dollars to get the show into classrooms in need. The Kickstarter raised over $5,000,000, helping over 10,000 classrooms nation-wide, alongside digital access for even more children.
Though Burton is not part of the Rainbows, his legacy with Reading Rainbow lives on in the forthcoming documentary Butterfly In The Sky and he hosts his own book club for adult readers through Fable.
Read more about the long-lasting impact of Reading Rainbow: