"Take a look, it's in a book"-those words came from the catchy theme song to the children's television show Reading Rainbow, a tune that signaled story time for a generation of children (myself included). I remember looking for books to check out in the library that had the Reading Rainbow logo.
After 26 years of shows, PBS' Reading Rainbow aired its last episode Friday. The show is winding down because of the cost of renewing its broadcasting license.
The third longest-running show on PBS after Sesame Street and Mister Roger's Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow has won more than two dozen Emmy awards.
Every episode told a story from a picture book, and host LeVar Burton would lead his audience on adventures related to the book-to parades, to honeybee farms, to artists' studios. During the last part of the show, Burton would mention other good books to read and then utter his famous line: "But you don't have to take my word for it. . . ." Then children would talk about their favorite books. The young Anne Michele Harrington, reviewing the book Ben's Trumpet in one of the first episodes, said, "It says never lose hope, and everybody needs to hear that once in a while."
"It is such a demonstration of what television is capable of," Parents Television Council president Tim Winter told me. "Sadly 99.9 percent of everything else falls so far short. . . . Unfortunately most television today for children tends to be a marketing vehicle for some other product."
John Grant, who oversees content at Reading Rainbow's home station, WNED in Buffalo, N.Y., told NPR, "Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read. You know, the love of reading."
Winter added, "From my perspective Reading Rainbow didn't teach values as much as it taught children to think about values. It taught children to learn, to make their own conclusions. The messages are timeless."
Public schools, in order to comply with No Child Left Behind, are working to teach kids the mechanics of reading so they can score well on standardized tests. That's more of what shows like Sesame Street and Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues emphasize-literacy through learning the alphabet and phonics.
Some nonprofit organizations like Everybody Wins! and Read Aloud America are simply trying to teach students the basic love for a good story. Reading out loud to children, like Reading Rainbow did, helps them perform better in school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.