Access is Everything

Rebooting Children’s Classics for a Digital World

Levar Burton Readin Rainbow
by Kristin Houser
Writer & Editor
, LA Music Blog

While children of the ’80s and ’90s had no choice but to wait by their TV sets if they wanted to catch their favorite television programs, today’s youth will soon have the opportunity to enjoy updated versions of some children’s classics whenever and wherever they want.

For 25 years, the award-winning PBS television series “Reading Rainbow” encouraged children across the nation to read. A generation of bookworms mourned the loss of the series when it was cancelled in 2006 due to decreased funding.

Its absence was short-lived, however, as host LeVar Burton and his business partner, producer Mark Wolfe, acquired the “Reading Rainbow” license in 2011. Soon after, the brand was ready to inspire reading in a new way: through an interactive tablet app.

The ”Reading Rainbow” app put hundreds of books and educational video field trips into the hands of children. Within 36 hours of its release, it was the most downloaded education app on the iTunes store.

More than 15 million books and videos have been accessed through the tablet app since its launch in 2012, but in an effort to “cultivate a love of reading in all children, not just those that have tablets,” “Reading Rainbow” launched a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter earlier this summer.

In less than half a day, the ”Reading Rainbow” Kickstarter campaign reached its goal of $1 million — enough money to update the tablet app for classroom and teacher use, make the existing and classroom versions of the app accessible on the Web and provide free year-long subscriptions to the full “Reading Rainbow” library for a minimum of 1,500 classrooms.

But that was only the beginning.

By the time the Kickstarter campaign ended on July 2, it had raised a whopping $6 million — $1 million of which was contributed by actor/comedian/animator Seth MacFarlane.

This additional funding will be used to make “Reading Rainbow” accessible to even more young readers by extending it to mobile devices, Android devices, gaming consoles (Xbox and Playstation) and over-the-top boxes (AppleTV, Roku and Kindle Fire TV), as well as by providing free subscriptions to an additional 6,000 classrooms.

But “Reading Rainbow” isn’t the only classic kid’s edutainment program getting a reboot for the 21st century.

Science-loving children of the ’90s will be happy to hear that an entirely new generation of young Edisons and Einsteins will soon be taking a ride on “The Magic School Bus.” Unlike their parents, however, fans of the series’ reboot, entitled “The Magic School Bus 360°,” will be able to watch the show anytime, anywhere, on nearly any Internet-connected screen because it will begin streaming worldwide via Netflix in 2016.

Magic School Bus concept art - childrens classics
Magic School Bus concept art.

Like the original “Magic School Bus,” the reboot will follow elementary school teacher Ms. Frizzle and her students as they explore the world aboard their magical school bus. According to Netflix, the rebooted version of the Scholastic Media series will use computer-generated animation and appeal to modern viewers by featuring “the latest tech innovations such as robotics, wearables and camera technology to captivate children’s imaginations and motivate their interest in the sciences.”

Between the “Reading Rainbow” revival and “The Magic School Bus” reboot, today’s young viewers will be able to enjoy learning at home, at school or on the go — all thanks to the same shows that ignited their parents’ imaginations when they were kids themselves.


Images courtesy of Reading Rainbow and Netflix.

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