In my little corner of the Internet, the news that LeVar Burton was attempting a Reading Rainbow comeback hit hard and fast and to universal delight. If my social media pages — and my heart — could be distilled down into one gif, it would be a Kermit the Frog flail.
My cohorts and I are of a generation that grew up with Reading Rainbow, and it still holds a special place in my heart. My fondness for the PBS show is shared, clearly; after less than one day the Kickstarter sailed past its $1 million goal. Now, its second day of fundraising, it’s almost to $2 million. No, I’m clearly not alone in my love for Reading Rainbow.
Why should this show, which was canceled in 2006 after an over 20-year run, inspire such goodwill? I can’t speak for everybody. For me, at least, Reading Rainbow did what kids’ shows should do. It exposed me to worlds and cultures vastly different from my own, but at the same time cutting through the difference to show what we have in common. The stories I remember are stories that centered around African or Native American settings and protagonists. Stories that, in my small, predominantly white town, I’m not convinced I would have come across on my own.
Perhaps stories like this one lead to a stereotyped view of what life is like across the ocean. But when you’re 5, just thinking about what life is like across the ocean opens up a gigantic, almost intimidating world.
Not only did Reading Rainbow teach me that other cultures exist and there are people in the world that live very different lives than my friends and me, it taught me that it’s possible for animals and people to live together.
Reading Rainbow is where I first heard of Humphrey, the humpback whale that deviated from its normal migration and got caught in a river. Usually, humans’ relationship with nature is antagonistic. Humans must divert this river or kill this wild beast. As far as I can remember, this is the first time I realized that this relationship doesn’t have to be toxic. We have the power to help animals who need it. We can change the environment for good or bad. It’s our decision.
Then there was the time LeVar taught me to not be too afraid of the scary monsters I saw on TV and in movies.
LeVar doesn’t transform into a monster, just an old guy. But just seeing the process was enlightening. Seeing the process for myself made me really understand that monsters aren’t real. (I also stopped wondering how Worf’s head got that way. Synergy.)
Besides any specific lesson, Reading Rainbow just fostered a lifelong love of books, reading and learning. Which is what, despite the criticism, I think it’s designed to do. Reading Rainbow doesn’t teach kids to read. Instead, it gives kids a reason to read, which is monumentally important. The benefits of raising readers are well established and, while Reading Rainbow didn’t do that alone for me, it was definitely part of the equation.
Maybe it’s my nostalgia talking, but I’m glad to see Reading Rainbow’s rebirth. The show taught me the world is big and wild and wonderful. I hope a new generation finds meaning in it like I did.
Photo Credit: Reading Rainbow Kickstarter