Reading Rainbow launches new iPad app

Reading Rainbow is back - but not on TV.

Host LeVar Burton has revived the popular franchise, which ran for 26 years on PBS, as an app for tablets.

The medium may be different, but the mission is the same: promoting children's literature.

"Television is a one-way medium," Burton says. "You are presenting your finished product to an audience and they absorb it.

"The great thing about an app is that it is designed to be an interactive experience."

Users of the app, called RRKidz, travel on a virtual hot air balloon between themed islands - like "Magical Tales" and "Animal Kingdom." There, they can read one of 150 children's books, which, like the TV show, are introduced by mini field trips with Burton.

"LeVar gives you some backstage to some real world experience that is tied to literature," Burton says, in the third person. "So LeVar is all up in the app, so to speak."

The app will feature classic clips from the show. But Burton will also film new segments and add books every month.

Summer reading

The app launches just in time for summer - a time when parents need something to occupy their children. RRKidz attempts to give reading a sense of whimsy and adventure, says Burton. He says the app tries to disguise learning as fun - something Burton says is vital for developing lifelong learning habits.

"We know that kids are going to be on these devices. What we're trying to do is provide some counter-programming to the games - a lot of the mindless engagement that goes on on these devices," Burton says.

"If you can manage to create children who are lifelong readers, the quality of their lives, the character of their lives improves immeasurably."

Take a look

Burton admits the app faces a few head winds. Many fewer people have tablets than TVs. Those that do may not elect to pay $9.99 a month to access the app.

Plus, Burton has to market to two different customers: children, who do not have credit cards to buy the app; and adults, who do, but may not have kids.

Burton says generations of adults do have nostalgia for the show, which often pours over when they meet him.

"It's like I never left," Burton says.

New landscape

The educational climate in the country has also changed since Reading Rainbow left the airwaves in the early 2000s.

With cuts to public schools, libraries and reading programs in the past decade, Burton says the app is a way to plug some of the gaps.

"We can't rely on government alone. We have spent way too much money over the last decade on the machinery of war," says Burton. "And there's just no more money in the coffers to educate our children the way we need to, the way we used to in America. We have to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and figure it out."

Burton says there are no plans to bring back the TV show. Still,  he says he'll likely produce more apps for older children and teenagers. The goal, as ever, creating lifelong readers.