Our parents probably knew him best as Roots’ Kunta Kinte. Our younger siblings and high school buddies knew him as the gold VISOR and flattop-rocking Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. But for any parent in their 30s, LeVar Burton was and always will be, first and foremost, our favorite librarian.
The host of Reading Rainbow (now 55 but still preternaturally youthful and nearly wrinkle-free) was on hand recently in New York to announce the relaunch of the beloved show as — what else? — an iPad app. After running on PBS for 23 years, the cult classic education program aired its final chapter in November of 2006, but Burton still felt passionately about bringing it back for today’s generation of kids — and parents.
Knowing that particular audience was now grown-up versions of the kids who’d watched him in through the 80s, Burton performed the equivalent of a Beatles reunion: a live duet of Reading Rainbow’s theme song with the original singer, Tina Fabrique. He didn’t have to ask the audience to sing along.
OK, enough with the shameless nostalgia. What about the future? We’ll admit that it’s a little disconcerting to see Burton hand kids an iPad instead of a chapter book, but the app has been painstakingly designed to–in Burton’s words–“let books still be books.”
Kids can travel in a virtual hot air balloon to one of many themed islands (Action & Adventure, Animal Kingdom, Genius Academy–which is code for science-based books–to name a few). Each island features dozens of books at various reading levels as well as a collection of RR’s famous video field trips, which show Burton exploring various exotic locales and finding out how things work, sort of like Mister Rogers crossed with The Amazing Race. Each book is narrated, many by Burton himself, and incorporate easy-to-read expanding text boxes and fun animations in keeping with the books’ original artwork.
While the app is definitely 21st century-friendly, it’s also charmingly old-school: kids get virtual backpacks, where they can keep up to 5 books at a time, and if they want a new book, they have to exchange it, library-style. As of its launch, the app costs $9.99 per month for a subscription (or $29.99 for 6 months), but the educational value–as well as the trip down pop culture memory lane–is much greater.
But of course–you knew this was coming–you don’t have to take our word for it. Check it out for yourself at the App Store.
Who out there has fond memories of Reading Rainbow? We know you’re out there!
— Una LaMarche
photos courtesy of Reading Rainbow Facebook page.