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Kids in a Book Drought? How About a New Reading Rainbow?

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If you were alive and kicking in the ‘80s, you probably know about a PBS show called Reading Rainbow. Well, guess what kids (and former kids)? It’s coming back. And for some of the very same reasons it came into being back then.

The original PBS show was first created because of what teachers called “the summer loss phenomenon.” During summer vacation, young kids tended to lose some of their reading chops because they weren’t picking up books when they could be out at the pool or running through the sprinklers instead. So, PBS created a fun show youngsters could watch on TV—focusing on field trips, musical bits and book-of-the-day readings—and therein be motivated by host LeVar Burton to get back into some nifty stories.

Parents loved it.

Teachers were pleased as punch, too.

The showbecame so popular, in fact, that it ended up becoming the most-watched PBS program in the classroom, racking up a school library of more than 150 programs.

Flash ahead almost 40 years, and kids seem to need another fun grab-a-book nudge thanks to remote learning necessities and pandemic lockdowns. They may not be out in the sprinklers, but they’re still not taking a lot of time to “explore the joys of reading”, as the old Reading Rainbow announcer proclaimed. And finding great books can slip a bit on the parental radar.

Can you say, “Where’s my Reading Rainbow?”

The new version, called Reading Rainbow Live is set to launch in early 2022. The structure of the show will reportedly be very similar to the old beloved one … with a few changes. You won’t see LeVar Burton’s smiling mustachioed face, for one thing. The show’s creative director, Amy Guglielmo, told CBS News that the program will feature a group of different hosts, known as “Rainbows.” “We really want kids to see themselves in the books that we’re choosing, and we’re going to use diverse creators, authors, illustrators, settings.”

On top of that, because its 2021, young viewers “will be able to engage with the live show via a virtual platform.” Meaning that they can not only watch and enjoy, they get to plug into the experience and ask questions and the like as the show live streams.

Of course, another thing about it being 2021 (and no longer 1983) is the fact that there are no guarantees about what kind of content this new Reading Rainbow might have tucked away in its pages and stories. As we often see with new kid show reboots, things may not always be as family-room friendly as we remember.

But, hey, that’s what we’re here for. Plugged In will keep an ear to the ground and give you a full review of the new show as soon as it comes into view. After all, we want to encourage everyone to explore the joys of reading, too.

Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.