Reading Rainbow Kickstarter scores $5.5m for child literacy (Wired UK)


LeVar probably won’t host the new Reading
Rainbow in character as Geordi La Forge

© 2014 RRKidz,

A Kickstarter campaign to relaunch the award-winning
children’s television show as a series of apps and streaming media
services has been a phenomenal success, ending with over five times
its intended goal.

Spearheaded by original Reading Rainbow
host LeVar Burton — better known here in the UK as Geordi La Forge
on Star Trek: The Next Generation — the funding drive
served to further develop the literacy-building program and extend
its reach to children regardless of their family’s income level.
Originally asking for an ambitious $1m (£583k), it blasted past
that in a mere 11 hours, and the final figure rocketed far beyond
that, raking in a total of $5,408,815 (£3.2m).

Reading Rainbow originally launched in June 1983 on PBS, showing a mix of
stories and educational content focussed on getting kids interested
in reading. Special guests would read stories to the audience, and
children came on the show to review their favourite books. Think of
it like Jackanory
meets Sesame Street. The series ran brand new episodes
until 2006, then screened repeats until 2009, when it was

However, Burton’s goal wasn’t to get the show back on air, but
extend the platform to modern children. Writing on the campaign
page, he said “When Reading Rainbow began in 1983, we were
using television to bring books to kids, meeting them where they
wanted to be. In 2014, TV is not that place anymore. Now, we’re
trying to reach a new generation of digital natives.”

Following the TV cancellation, Reading Rainbow was
initially relaunched as an app in 2012. The successful Kickstarter
allows the app to be further developed, and launch on platforms
including mobile devices, games consoles such as PlayStation, Xbox,
and even Ouya, and smart TVs. Web presence will be improved, and
the service will also be launched in classrooms. Having hit the $5m
stretch goal, over 7500 American classes will receive subscriptions
for free, with every $100k beyond that allowing Burton and co. to
supply the service, plus teacher’s guides and support materials, to
another 500 underfunded classrooms for free. By’s
calculations, that’s at least 9500 classes benefitting.

Although traditionally an American program, the Reading
relaunch has global scope, with the app “available
everywhere in the world, unless the countries themselves have
regional restrictions”. The drive to provide free access to
classrooms is nominally restricted to the US, though two reward
tiers allowed backers to donate access to a class or school of
their choice. Subscriptions will also be available for regular

It’s understandable why so many have put their hands in their
pockets, and it’s not just nostalgia from the generation who grew
up watching the show. Literacy in the US is shockingly low, with 1 in 4 American children growing up functionally illiterate,
and the US being the only free-market country where the current
generation is less well educated than the previous. The campaign drew
widespread and celebrity support, including Family Guy
creator Seth MacFarlane guaranteeing to match $1m in pledges.

The updated Reading Rainbow program is set to launch in

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