Reading Rainbow Reinvented: The PBS Kids’ Show Turned App

Reading Rainbow, the beloved children’s show on PBS that had a 26-year run, recently joined the digital age with the launch of its iPad app. LeVar Burton, the former host of the television show, leads kids on video “field trips” and narrates 20 percent of the books in the app’s library.

Reading Rainbow iPad app with LeVar Burton
Kids can take video “field trips” with LeVar Burton on the new app.

Rainbow-colored chairs and floating hot-air balloons set the playful mood for the launch of Reading Rainbow’s latest adventure: an iPad app. Though the beloved kids’ show ended its 26-year run on PBS in 2009, it returned with the best of technology and storytelling combined on June 20, when it made its debut in the digital world at a kid-filled kickoff in Manhattan.

The app’s setting is an ocean in the sky, where users direct a hot-air balloon to several islands, each with a different theme. On these islands, kids ages 3-9 can choose from a variety of books that complement the theme and take video “field trips” led by LeVar Burton, former host of the television series. At launch, themes included: Animal Kingdom; Genius Library; My Friends, My Family; Action Adventures; and Magic Tales, but new islands and books will be added often.

“It is a digital environment that kids can lose themselves in, in the best way possible,” Burton said at the launch event.

Children playing with the new Reading Rainbow iPad app at its launch

A group of lucky little ones were the first
to try out the new Reading Rainbow app
at its launch event in Manhattan.

Kids can also personalize virtual backpacks using colors and logos, which they can use to hold up to five of their favorite books. The app runs on a library model, meaning kids can take out and return books to their backpacks at will.

Each book on the app has the option of being read aloud, with Burton narrating 20 percent of them. Whether kids opt to read alone or listen along, interactive elements in each book are what set this app apart. The Reading Rainbow team worked hard to ensure the animations were aligned with the narrative and the entire app successfully represents the brand. And as in the show, the app ties the literature to the real world, creating a connection for the reader.

To accompany the app, there is an online parenting community at which allows parents to see what books their kids are selecting, how much they are reading, and suggests questions they can ask their kids about the material.

The free app download lets you explore the islands and download one book. Further use is subscription based, with one month for one child costing $9.99. The iPad app is now available for download in the App Store.


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