Actor LeVar Burton encourages reading with a new iPad app

By Abigale Subdhan on August 20, 2012
American actor LeVar Burton has been a familiar face to millions of kids for more than 20 years. He was the host of the children’s program, Reading Rainbow, which spanned across three decades. Now, six years after the award-winning show went off the air – LeVar is reviving the Reading Rainbow brand with an iPad app.

He chats with ParentsCanada about his love for reading and what he hopes for children will learn from this new app.

ParentsCanada: What sparked your interest in encouraging children to read?

LeVar Burton: My mom’s side of the family were all educators. My mom was an English teacher so teaching is like the family business. And I’ve loved reading since I was young. We were an army family and would move around a lot, so reading was a constant for me. Reading Rainbow combines my two passions – literature and acting. It’s like the perfect career.

PC: Why did you decide to continue the Reading Rainbow brand?

LB:  Reading Rainbow was a large part of my life for so long. And when the show ended [in 2006,] there was a real clamour with the Reading Rainbow fans, both parents and their kids.  So it just seemed natural to move the brand forward.

PC: Why did you decide to reform Reading Rainbow into an app?

LB: The goal of Reading Rainbow has always been to use the day’s prevailing technology to guide kids to read.  It creates a connection between literature and technology that kids can relate to so that they’ll enjoy reading. The show did that with books and television and now this app will do the same with books and electronic tablets.

PC: Explain how the app works.

LB: The app is subscription-based. The key target is for kids between the ages of 3 and 9. You get the first book free and then you can choose from over 150 children’s books. We’ve added games and videos to make it interactive and fun. And kids can collect rewards after reading each book.

PC: What's your goal for this app?

LB: This app will give kids the opportunity for enrichment; it’s a mix of education and entertainment. That’s what Reading Rainbow has always been and that’s what I know. [Also,] this app will let kids decide whether they are going to become a reader for life. I want them to get hooked on reading and find a love for it. Learning is within your grasp and it’s important for kids to know that. At the end of the day, we want to provide families with quality content.

PC: What will kids learn from this app?

LB: [I want them to learn] that they love reading and they get “Oh yeah, this is what reading is about.” It’s about connecting with the words on the page – whether the page is made of paper or is digital. They can be in their imagination and create a new world. Then when they come back into this world, they can bring those dreams with them. And if they so choose, they can make those dreams real.  

PC: What are your thoughts on electronic versus traditional books? 

LB: It’s not only a growing trend, but [electronic books] are necessary. How long will it take us to realize that we can’t continue to cut down trees to make books? People need to make the right choice and it just makes sense that most of our reading should be done on electronic devices. It’s a no-brainer.

PC: What are three tips to help parents get their child interested in reading?

LB: I love this question. Number one, read to your kids. Number two, read in front of your kids. And finally, number 3, read in front of your kids [laughs].

The Reading Rainbow app is available in the iTunes store. The initial download is free. After, you can choose from a monthly subscription for $9.99 or a six-month subscription for $29.99.

By Abigale Subdhan| August 20, 2012

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