Two days ago, LeVar Burton took to Kickstarter to fund a relaunch of the classic Reading Rainbow. Rather than a new TV series, or even a webseries, what he wants to do is transform the show into an interactive source for books, “video field trips” and learning games that kids can access on their tablets and PCs, and that teachers can use in classrooms to bolster discussions. LeVar did an adorable video. He made a bunch of Next Generation jokes.
And his kickstarter earned over $1,000,000 in one day. In writing the essay below, I had the text box open over my internet, and watched as the numbers ticked up from $2,008,000 to $2,0030,452. I just checked in with the campaign again: $2,488,770. So, it looks like we’re getting new Reading Rainbow?
We here at Tor.com all love Reading Rainbow, and LeVar Burton, and TNG, and Community. Reading Rainbow was a great show for book-loving kids, taking the stories off the page and into reality. Geordi La Forge was possibly the most nerdy character on a deeply nerdy show. And “Set phasers to love me!” is possibly the funniest line on a very funny show. So, speaking for Tor.com, I can say that we’re all really happy about this project.
Speaking just for me, though: as a kid growing up in a rural area, before we got cable, back when I was attending an all-white school, and being taught by an ancient, well-meaning lady who still used “coloreds” as a noun, LeVar Burton’s show was incredibly important. More than just fostering a love of literacy, Reading Rainbow became my window into a much larger world. It wasn’t even the most obvious thing, which was that LeVar Burton was the first African-American I saw on a regular basis. It was more who he was: cool, funny, and proud of being smart. He wore an earring and an array of colorful shirts. He often celebrated life in New York. He had a never-ending parade of artist friends (as a kid, I just naively assumed they were all his real friends) who showed up to demonstrate dance steps and painting techniques. And best of all, he loved books. And I loved books! Clearly, we were destined to marry, and live in New York with all the books! Obviously, my romantic aspirations faded as I got older (and moved on to slightly more age-appropriate crushes) but the idea of finding a more sophisticated book-loving community did not.
Many of the Reading Rainbow episodes involved him running around the city, meeting people with unusual jobs. There’s the bindery episode, with its intoxicating earworm of a theme song, or the one where he visited the TNG sets. I still remember watching the episode “Animal Cafe.” The book is about a cat and dog who run a diner for animals after the (human) owners shut down for the night. The “video field trip” features LeVar travelling the city at night, interviewing people who work graveyard shifts, and getting dinner at the 24-hour Moondance Diner. I felt a literal click in my head as I realized that grown up adult people could choose to live in a city and work all night if they wanted to. I could be anything! I could be a DJ, or a baker! Or a fishmonger! New York was full of people who worked all night instead of adhering to ridiculous bedtimes…and one of those guys at Moondance Diner had purple hair!
LeVar encouraged me, and a lot of other kids, to go twice as high as butterflies, telling us that we could go anywhere and be anything. Which in my case meant going to New York, attending two graduate programs, and becoming a writer. And the idea that now Burton is trying to take Reading Rainbow further, making it available to kids on laptops and tablets, bringing it into classrooms and making it relevant to a whole new generation of readers…well, I need to stop before I go full Troy Barnes here.
So, here’s the adorable Kickstarter video, in which Burton offers backers a chance to wear The Greatest Banana Clip of All Time:
And here’s what came next: LeVar’s reaction to hitting the $1,000,000 mark is… well, I might have teared up, which is not something I normally do.