Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Take A Look, It's in A Book

“But you don’t have to take my word for it.” 

For some people, those words mean a lot. They mean that Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton was about to turn over his show to the people he had been speaking to, the kids, and letting them review books. It was a short but extremely powerful message, one that got down to the core of Reading Rainbow, which was this, “How do we encourage kids to read?” And it got to a very simple answer: Ask them what they think.

If you haven’t been paying attention, recently former Reading Rainbow host and former Geordi LaForge (Oh, like I wasn’t going to put in a Star Trek reference. He even dedicated part of his show to the behind the scenes look at The Next Generation. Like you haven’t read this blog before) recently used Kickstarter to bring back Reading Rainbow. The show has been off the  air since 2009, after an impressive 26 year run. It attracted a lot of attention, setting records and even getting Family Guy himself, Seth MacFarlane, to match donations to ensure that the program would reach as many people as possible.  (And presumably to make up for A Million Ways to Die in the West.)

I love to read. Pulling back the curtain and showing the inner workings of Bad Shakespeare, the truth is that little tab that says, “What I’m currently reading” remains unchanged so long because I’m usually reading a few books at a time. I generally have a few books put aside that suit my mood. Maybe a comedy mixed with a mystery mixed with a coming of age novel where people come to terms with stuff. Maybe I’ll take a break from my science fiction novel to check in on some old friends. And typically have a bookmark placed in Good Omens, one of my very favorite books. I can trace this to a television show that started out with a butterfly.

I’m glad that LeVar Burton is working hard to bring it back. I know it was around in App form for a few years (which everything is nowadays.) I can honestly say that this is one of the things that really fostered my love of reading. 

Reading for pleasure is sort of an abstract thing. It’s one thing to sit in an English class and be told what to read. You have to read it. But why should we read outside of the classroom? Why should we read at all? The best part about Reading Rainbow was the fact that LeVar Burton used to show us why it was important. He’d visit some location that tied into the book, and showed us the story behind it. he would show us why reading was important. He showed us why knowledge of the outside world wasn’t a bad thing, and even if a story was fiction, it tied into the real world. 

But then, there were those reviews from real kids. Rather than an adult (and celebrity narrator) just talking at kids for the entire show, everyone would take a step back and ask the kids what they thought. They’d ask the kids why they wanted to read, why they were reading, and why they enjoyed a certain book. It gave them power over their own reading for enjoyment, not just something  grown-up told them to read. That’s important when encouraging kids to read. 

Of course, with Kickstarter Campaigns breeds controversies as people jump over themselves to find some reason to hate something. Because in this day and age, any time someone does anything, even if it’s encouraging a person to read, we have to find a reason to hate it or a flaw in the plan. A poorly researched Washington Post article (that I won’t link to because… I don’t want this person to get the views) called out Reading Rainbow, much in the same way a bully calls out someone weaker than them. No, “writer” who can’t be bothered to do any research on Reading Rainbow, it was not cancelled because because it wasn’t effective. It wasn’t cancelled because it wasn’t being watched. It was cancelled because their funding was pulled. You know how I figured that out? Research. I’d recommend you do that before you write your articles. 

But that’s just a small portion of what’s going on. Reading Rainbow meant a lot to me as a young reader. It means a lot to me today, as someone who reads for fun, and as someone who writes as much as he can.  I’m hoping that it continues to mean a lot to people as readers, and raise a new group of people that read not because they have to, but because it’s fun. Because it helps you learn. Because it can take you to a new place that you’ve never been before, make you a new person. 

I hope that people will take advantage of Reading Rainbow coming back. I thought of a few different ways I could end this post, but I’m going to leave it up to LeVar Burton, who will hopefully forgive me for taking his line.

“I’ll see you next time.” 

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