September 30, 2023

‘Reading Rainbow’ to Return as an App


Actor LeVar Burton wants to bring Reading Rainbow back—as an app.

So says the popular show’s former host, who has kept the flame alive for the beloved children’s series, which launched on PBS Kids in 1983. Instead of a television show, Burton is planning to launch a mobile application, which will offer books to children.

Burton has a soft spot for Reading Rainbow, and successfully won the rights back to the @readingrainbow Twitter handle earlier this month from a squatter. A simple tweet to @twitter asking for help to reclaim the handle on Jan. 31 galvanized followers who retweeted the plea. Burton got the show’s name back by the following day, which will fold into a business plan to resurrect the show’s legacy for a digital audience.

Reading Rainbow went off the air in 2009, but by then the network was only broadcasting re-runs of 155 older episodes. Production actually ended in 2006, as executives at PBS and at public television station WNED, which owned the rights, decided that the show had lost interest among young viewers. Pulling the plug on the show in 2009 was a financial decision, as underwriting grants for the publishing and residual fees had run out, John Grant, an executive producer for Reading Rainbow, told SLJ at the time.

By then, programming to teach kids to read through phonics had grown trendier than Reading Rainbow’s format, which featured celebrities—everybody from Bill Cosby to Flavor Flav—reading stories and having children review the books on air. But Burton never gave up the fight. He launched a new website, RRKidz, in September, which hopes to offer a subscription-based, reading experience through iPad and Android devices, but currently sells only DVDs of the original show.

How the actual app will eventually look isn’t known yet, and Burton did not return requests for comment. But he has tweeted for his 1.7 million followers to stay tuned. “Hey kids!” he wrote. “Don’t forget to follow @ReadingRainbow for the latest info and news about the release of our App.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at