The feel-good Internet story of the year, the resurrection of Reading Rainbow finally came to fruition this weekend. The show ran for twenty-three years on PBS before being unceremoniously cancelled in late 2006. Since then, host LeVar Burton & co have launched a Reading Rainbow app – an education tool for children, allowing them to read and view a vast number of books and interviews; though it wasn’t until earlier this year, with Burton’s impassioned plea via Kickstarter, that Reading Rainbow truly returned into the national consciousness. Burton’s Kickstarter campaign sought to raise funds to launch the app on the web, smart-phones and other streaming devices, as well as for free for needy impoverished schools. Within eleven hours, one million dollars had been raised for Reading Rainbow – and when all was said and done, over five million in sum had been donated.
To honor the many people who contributed to the cause, LeVar Burton hosted the very first Reading Rainbow live show last Saturday afternoon. The cast of Battlestar Galactica (Katee Sackhoff, Edward James Olmos, Jamie Bamber, Tricia Helfer, James Callis & Michael Trucco) helped Burton read from a trio of books to a group of attentive children and Gen Y parents. For highlights and pictures of the event, hit the jump.
Often times, nostalgia can seem like a crutch – by very definition repeating what’s come before and stunting whatever new form of entertainment there may be. I find myself becoming very cynical of whatever reboot, sequel or prequel currently clutters the multiplex, as well as the mass audience’s general inclination towards regurgitating these forms of entertainment. It was just this week that people were nostalgic for the 1994 version of The Little Rascals, a film I knew was horrid even at six. At times it’s felt that there is no greater enemy to art and its development than nostalgia, a focus on what’s come before hindering any present and future growth.
Reading Rainbow proves me wrong. Sometimes nostalgia can lead to something truly revelatory. Sometimes looking back is needed to step forward. Watching the audience react – both children experiencing Reading Rainbow for the first time and their parents who probably grew up watching the program – it’s unquestionable what an impact the show has had, will continue to have and should have.
Space was the focus of the live show – the three books read all in some way connected to the theme. Burton came up on stage first and read Eight Days Gone by Linda McReynolds. The children’s book, an account of Apollo 11’s eight-day mission to the moon, is a poetic almost haiku-esque take on that landmark event. It’s a really lovely piece of writing by McReynolds, surprisingly complex in its simplicity. The sparse writing style made the story a nice warm-up for the next two books that followed.
Burton, joined by the Battlestar Galactica cast, read from Peter Carrick’s Watch Out For Wolfgang. The book, a riff on The Three Little Pigs, repurposes the Grimms’ fairy tale into a dystopian landscape where three robot brothers must fend off against a malicious recycler – the titular Wolfgang. Much of the joy in the story comes from just how truly dark it is willing to go. Wolfgang takes enormous satisfaction from tearing these poor robots apart – and the actors gathered seemed to relish the opportunity to play “the big bad wolf”. A special mention must be given to Jamie Bamber, his droll British delivery, perfectly complimenting Carrick’s sardonic take on the ‘wolf’. It’s strange to think that the goody two-shoes Apollo would make for the best big bad wolf – but Bamber more than proved himself an excellent storyteller.
The last book read, Miss Martin is a Martian (by Colleen Murray Fisher), is a sweet parable on the inherent joys of learning. Melvin, a young boy starting the school year, comes to believe his teacher, Miss Martin, is a Martian because she simply knows too much, most certainly more than any human should. It’s a nice nod to how earthshattering learning can be and how those who are more knowledgeable can on the outset seem weird or foreign. It’s a book that asks kids to be curious, to push themselves and to think for themselves – a message Reading Rainbow itself was founded upon.
The three children’s books can be found via Amazon in the following links: Eight Days Gone (http://www.amazon.com/Eight-Days-Gone-Linda-McReynolds/dp/1580893651), Watch Out for Wolfgang (http://www.amazon.com/Watch-Out-Wolfgang-Paul-Carrick/dp/1570916896) and Miss Martin is a Martian (http://www.amazon.com/Martin-Martian-Colleen-Murray-Fisher/dp/1934133388).
To watch Reading Rainbow and to download the app, visit their website.
*Special thanks to Leah Gonzalez for helping snap the pictures of the event