Reading Rainbow

Reading Rainbow
Genre Educational
Created by
  • Cecily Truett Lancit
  • Laurence Lancit
  • Twila Liggett
  • Lynne Ganek
  • Tony Buttino
Presented by LeVar Burton
Theme music composer Steve Horelick
Dennis Neil Kleinman
Janet Weir
Composer(s) Steve Horelick
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 21
No. of episodes 155 (list of episodes)
Running time 30 minutes
Original network PBS
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
Audio format Mono (1983–1987)
Stereo (1984–1987; some episodes, all episodes 1988–2006)
Original release June 6, 1983 (1983-06-06) – November 10, 2006 (2006-11-10)
Reading Rainbow App
Original work

Educational App
Reading Rainbow App for Kindle Fire on the Amazon Appstore

Reading Rainbow App for iPad on the Apple App Store

Reading Rainbow is an American half-hour children's television series that aired on PBS Kids from June 6, 1983 to November 10, 2006, with a total of 155 half-hour episodes spanning over 21 seasons. The show encouraged children to read. In 2012, an iPad and Kindle Fire educational interactive book reading and video field trip application was launched bearing the name of the program.

The public television series garnered over 200 broadcast awards, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmy Awards, 11 of which were in the "Outstanding Children's Series" category.[1] The series was created under the leadership of Cecily Truett Lancit and Larry Lancit, at Lancit Media Productions in New York. The concept of a reading series for children originated with Twila Liggett, Ph.D., and Paul Schupbach (director), of the Great Plains National Instructional Television Library at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln; and Tony Buttino, of WNED-TV Buffalo, New York. The original team included Lynne Brenner Ganek, Ellen Schecter, and host LeVar Burton.

Each episode centered on a theme from a book, or other children's literature, which was explored through a number of segments or stories. The show also recommended books for kids to look for when they went to the library. It is the third-longest running children's series in PBS history, after Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Sesame Street. It was also one of the first PBS shows to be broadcast in stereo.

After cancellation on November 10, 2006, reruns aired until August 28, 2009, when it was pulled from the schedule.[2] On June 20, 2012, the Reading Rainbow App was released for the iPad and, within 36 hours, became the #1 most-downloaded educational app in the iTunes App Store.[3] Built from the ground up by LeVar Burton and his company, RRKIDZ, the app allows children to read unlimited books, explore video field trips starring Burton, and earn rewards for reading. The week of June 11, 2013, Reading Rainbow celebrated its 30th anniversary.[4]

In May 2014 a Kickstarter campaign was launched to raise funds to make the app available on the web, Android, game consoles, smartphones, and other streaming devices along with creating a classroom version with the subscription fee waived for up to 13,000 disadvantaged classrooms. The effort met its initial fundraising goal of $1,000,000 in eleven hours.[5] The campaign met its second goal of $5 million in the last 24 hours, triggering a matching $1 million from Seth MacFarlane; the final amount raised on Kickstarter is $5,408,916 from 105,857 backers.[6]

Show details

Reading Rainbow was hosted by actor and executive producer LeVar Burton, who is also known for his roles in Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show was produced first by Lancit Media Entertainment from 1983 to 2000, and then, by On-Screen Entertainment from 2000 to 2006.

Every episode featured a different book, often narrated by a celebrity. Celebrity readers included Philip Bosco (Barbara Bash's Desert Giant: The World of the Saguaro Cactus), Michael Ansara (Paul Goble's The Gift of the Sacred Dog, Sheila MacGill Callahan's And Still the Turtle Watched), Josie de Guzman (Leyla Torres's Saturday Sancocho), Jason Robards (Francine Jacobs' Sam the Sea Cow), Bill Cosby (Marc Brown's Arthur's Eyes), Eartha Kitt (Megan McDonald's Is This a House for Hermit Crab?) and Charles Kimbrough (David Wiesner's June 29, 1999). Another segment featured Burton in diverse places talking to people about their work and other contributions, focusing on the theme of each episode. In one episode, Burton took the show behind-the-scenes on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The final segment of each show, called Book Reviews, began with Burton's introductory catchphrase, "But you don't have to take my word for it," and featured children giving capsule reviews of books they liked. At the end of each episode, Burton was best known for saying: "I'll see you next time."

The series' pilot, which aired as the show's eighth episode in 1983, featured the book Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, and was narrated by Doug Parvin. It was created and produced in 1981. Burton hosted the program.

The show's theme song was written by Steve Horelick, Dennis Neil Kleinman, and Janet Weir; Horelick also served as the series' music director and composer and received an EMMY nomination in 2007 for his work on the series. The original theme was performed by Tina Fabrique and featured one of the first uses of the Buchla synthesizer in a TV theme song. The original opening sequence consisted of a cartoon butterfly transforming the surroundings of young children reading books into cartoon fantasy lands, was used until 1999. Later episodes used a new opening sequence, which is a live-action sequence, and features Burton in a space-themed environment world, with the same theme song performed by R&B artist Chaka Khan. It was also used for reruns of older episodes until Labor Day of 2008, when PBS stopped airing reruns.

The daughters of producer Larry Lancit, Shaune and Caitlin Lancit, were often featured in the series, notably as the children thanking the sponsors at the beginning and end of the show.

Last years as TV series (2005–2006)

The Reading Rainbow logo used between 1983 and 1999.

Original production was to have ended after April 4, 2005, with the show continuing to air in reruns, but host LeVar Burton said on February 7, 2006 that five new episodes of the show would be shot in 2006 despite the continuing financial troubles of PBS.[7] The show aired its last episode on November 10, 2006.

Relaunch as an app

Announcement and early developments (2010–2014)

Former executive producer LeVar Burton announced on his Twitter feed on March 19, 2010, that "Reading Rainbow 2.0 is in the works."[8] On March 4, 2012, he announced that it was the "last day of shooting before launch!"[9]

On June 13, 2012, in a special presentation at Apple Inc's annual World Wide Developers Conference, Burton and his business partner, Mark Wolfe, introduced the new Reading Rainbow iPad App.[10] It became available in Apple's iTunes Store on June 20, 2012, and within 36 hours was the #1 educational app. In January 2014, the Reading Rainbow App surpassed 10M books read and video field trips watched by children in 18 months. Consistently the #1 Educational and overall Kids App for iPads, the Reading Rainbow App continues to inspire new generations of readers in children throughout the world. [11]

Kickstarter revival campaign and aftermath (2014–2016)

On May 28, 2014, LeVar Burton started a Kickstarter fund to revive the show and materials. In under twelve hours the show had reached its $1 million goal. The new goal is to create an educational version for schools to use, free of cost to those schools in need, and help America get back to high literacy rates. They are also going to create a website for students to use to assist them with learning how to read. The following day, May 29, 2014, they reached two million dollars (double their goal) at 1:15 p.m. PST.[12] The campaign raised $5,408,916 on Kickstarter with another one million from Seth MacFarlane, and $70,000 raised via direct contributions. The grand total was $6,478,916.

With 105,857 backers, the campaigns holds Kickstarter's record for most backers and is the 8th highest amount raised on Kickstarter (as of June 1, 2015).[13]

"Reading Rainbow Theme song"
Sample of "Reading Rainbow Theme Song"

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In March 2016, Burton launched a new online educational service called Reading Rainbow Skybrary for Schools that follows the same mission of the televisions series, while expanding to integrate into classroom curriculums.[14]


Television, film, and music

Reading Rainbow and LeVar Burton have appeared in many works of popular culture.

Animation producers

Feature Book filming

The photographing of the Feature Book segments was by:

Guest readers and contributors

Writing and illustrating contest

In 1995, the creators launched the first contest called Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest. The annual writing and illustrating competition for children grades K through 3 continued until 2009 when it was relaunched as PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest. Then in 2013 it was renamed into "PBS KIDS Writers Contest".


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