RIP Reading Rainbow
The first article I read when I woke up this morning saddened me to no end. It was NPR’s report on the end of an era, also known as the last airing of Reading Rainbow. Amazingly, Levar Burton has been taking a look in books for the past 26 years. That means when I was just starting to read, this show was still getting it’s footing.
What made this show special was that it wasn’t preachy, it didn’t dumb down content, or tell kids the phonics they were getting in schools. Reading was an adventure to be had. It took you to new worlds where anything was possible, and to top it off, you (a kid!) got to review the book in the end. And while pundits decry television, movies, and gaming for dumbing down our youth, I have to say, this is a huge blow as well. I still maintain a shelf amongst my four bookcases devoted to children’s books. And so many of them are Reading Rainbow classics. Following are my top nine Reading Rainbow books, in alphabetical order, with audio links to the original kid reviews.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Judith Viorst
I wore out the pages on this one. I totally empathized with him, since as a kid, I was sure that my problems were just the worst. Though I did always wish I had railroad pajamas.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
by Judi Barrett
This was one of my all-time absolute favorites as a kid. I never ate mashed potatoes (and to this day still don’t) without thinking of the snowy, butter-pat sunset. This is soon to be a movie, and from what I’ve seen, in all honesty I’m a bit worried. I hope they do it justice.
Free to be… a Family: A Book About All Kinds of Belonging
by Marlo Thomas and friends
Okay, so I really actually love the original of this series, Free to be You and Me. But I couldn’t find it in the RR Archives. I remember taking this book out of the library and popping in the accompanying cassette tape and being happy for hours. And even now I still love listening to songs and sketches by Diana Ross, Alan Alda, Mel Brooks, and even footballer Rosey Grier letting me know it’s all gonna be alright.
The Jolly Postman
by Janet and Alan Ahlberg
This book was so great because you could actually pull the fairy tale characters’ mail out of little tiny envelopes and read the letters. It was a charming yet crazy event book, that made the mundane task of checking (and reading, natch) the mail fun and exciting.
by Chris Van Allsburg
I have always been a big board game enthusiast. As a kid I could have played Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly, or Life all day long. But I always secretly wanted to be playing Jumanji, if only to start a rhinoceros stampede through our kitchen.
Miss Nelson is Back
by Harry Allard and James Marshall
Miss Viola Swamp scared the bejeezus out of me. I always thought twice about acting up for substitute teachers out fear they would send her in instead.
Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey
I think growing up in Massachusetts, it was a prerequisite that you had this book memorized before you were allowed to start Kindergarten. Mrs. Mallard was the ultimate octo-mom, with Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack in her brood. I remember thinking how neat it would be to live with them near the swan boats.
The Story of Ferdinand
by Munro Leaf
As a kid, I thought Ferdinand was oh so sweet for smelling the flowers instead of doing something stupid like bullfighting. As an adult, I love its intelligent commentary on pacifism. It also doesn’t hurt that Elliott Smith had Ferdinard tattooed on his right arm (as seen on the cover art for either/or).
Where The Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
What kid didn’t want to be the king of all wild things, presiding over their own wild rumpus? At ten sentences long, this is probably the shortest read in my Reading Rainbow list, but also one of the best. In contrast to my other fave on this list, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, I am super excited for this movie. The trailer give me chills.