On a flight to Texas this week, I came across an article about LeVar Burton and his Kickstarter campaign to raise money to make his Reading Rainbow app available for free in schools. He wildly succeeded, raising $5.4 million matched with another million from his friend Seth McFarlane, from Modern Family. He offered some great incentives for donors from bumper stickers and tote bags to the chance to designate a classroom to receive a first release of the app to visits to classrooms and libraries by Burton (for gifts of $10,000).
According to a Forbes article, after the end of the long-running PBS program that so many of our kids loved, Burton developed an Apple and Android app that connected kids to a vast library of e-books. The problem was making this accessible to lower income households. This funding will allow the Reading Rainbow app to be offered in over 7500 classrooms as well as developing an internet site where these resources are also available. Burton says that “Reading Rainbow is back for every child, everywhere.” He hopes this will have a major impact on functional literacy among America’s children where one in four are considered functionally illiterate.
I think this is a wonderful effort and I have nothing but applause for Burton. It is especially thrilling to see someone who has pursued this passion for a generation and through changes in technology. But according to a Guardian article 3 in 10 children in the U.K. do not own a book. Studies show that children who do not own a book are much more likely to read below grade. It is an interesting question of whether a program like Reading Rainbow is sufficient to address this.
It seems to me that there is something about having a book of one’s own as a child that could help feed a reading habit. I remember my early “Golden Books” that I read over and over. Even though there was much I didn’t understand, I thought it so cool that my church would give me a Bible of my own with my name embossed on the cover.
As I researched this post, I discovered that there is a group called First Book doing this work. They claim to have distributed 115 million books in 100,000 schools and programs over the past 21 years. Their website indicates corporate sponsors like KPMG and Target have worked with them.
I wonder who the public figure is who could help promote something like this. Wouldn’t it be great to have a goal of a book or even a beginning library for every child, everywhere?
Last of all, it seems like there needs to be a crucial coordination between reading teachers, librarians, opportunities like Reading Rainbow and First Book and other reading volunteers to encourage child literacy. This is one of the first steps in bridging the inequities of economics and opportunity in our society. A reading app and a physical book for every child seem good places to begin.