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Classic Kids Show 'Reading Rainbow' Returns as iPad App

By Mathew Katz | June 20, 2012 11:13am

CHELSEA — "Reading Rainbow" is back — in app form.

The classic PBS show that spent 26 years teaching kids about the wide world of books launched a new iPad app in Chelsea yesterday, bringing the series back for the first time since it went off the air in 2009.

"This is a long-held dream coming true before my very eyes," said actor LeVar Burton, host of "Reading Rainbow."

"The idea of making it available for a whole generation of children that have no idea who LeVar was — but their parents do — was a really daunting task."

"Reading Rainbow" brought books to life with animated readings, songs, and even reviews by kids themselves. The new app, which launches on iTunes Wednesday, will provide young readers aged 3 to 9 with similar experiences — including all-new "video field trips" featuring Burton, along with clips from the original show.

The app acts like an online library, where kids can browse books based on their interests and "borrow"up to five at a time, allowing them to read and enjoy the books themselves, or have them read by Burton or a handful of other narrators.

"I do believe that we have successfully reinvented from the bottom up what was a television show into a multidimensional experience about the exploration and discovery of quality children's literature in a digital environment that kids can lose themselves in," Burton said.

The app will launch with 150 books from a variety of children's publishers and 16 "video field trips." It's free to download, but will require a subscription of $9.99 a month, or $29.99 for six months.

A free limited version is also available, though that will limit kids to one book and fewer videos.

The app is the first product from RRKidz, a company founded by Burton and film producer Mark Wolfe, which was formed in the aftermath of the cancellation "Reading Rainbow."

"When it went off the air, there was a bizarre outcry of, 'Oh my god, "Reading Rainbow" won't be there for my kids,'" Wolfe said.

"Television is awesome, but for kids today, it is all about devices. It's all about electronic media."

The company plans to add significantly more titles to its collection in the future, and is even working on figuring out a way to bring back the memorable children's review sequences.

Burton spent decades championing youth literacy along with a film and television career, playing such roles as Kunta Kinte in "Roots" and Geordi La Forge in "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Despite concerns from some that the rise of e-readers and tablets might kill books and reading, Burton said that the new app offers a way to encourage kids to embrace reading using a technology that's been utilized to sell kids games and videos.

"At the advent of television, there were a lot of people who said it was going to be the beginning of the end of culture, and that didn't happen," he said.

"We just need to do a better job of giving kids a balanced diet. It's up to us as elders and parents to create that sense of balance for our kids."

Still, the app did have one hiccup that wouldn't be seen in a traditional book: While Burton was demonstrating it, it temporarily froze while loading.

The actor, however, made light of the situation.

"I am not an engineer," Burton said. "I just play one on TV."