It comes as no surprise that the founder and co-executive producer of the twenty-time Emmy-award-winning show, Reading Rainbow is an educator and avid reader herself. Dr. Twila Liggett was born to teach.
Liggett’s passions led her to various jobs, including school principal, state reading consultant for Nebraska, a handbook writer and teacher of grant-writing courses. When Nebraska Educational Television decided to be the progenitor of a national children’s series, Liggett was their choice. With her talents, Reading Rainbow was born.
Reading Rainbow found a formula that works and sticks with it. Each episode highlights three books that are reviewed by real children. LeVar Burton, the host of the show, talks candidly to viewers and asks questions that encourage them to answer from their living rooms. Burton goes on location to explore topics addressed in the books so children can see real footage of the events being discussed. Kids are taught to question and research, skills that teachers and parents encourage.
Reading Rainbow does not shy away from tough issues. They are part of children’s reality and Reading Rainbow is there, helping children to cope with the world. The Emmy award winning Tin Forest deals with 9/11and is included in the KIDS FIRST!® Film and Video Festivals. Visiting Day focuses on children with a parent in prison.
The role of the show extends far beyond the actual television set. Burton and Liggett bring their joy of reading into schools, and local networks promote literacy programs based on the concept that reading should be fun. In the American school system, there is a great push for children to be more literate, yet busy schedules prevent older children, such as tweens, from increasing their literacy skills by reading for fun. “Reading is the greatest joy on the planet. Once you read, the world is there for you,” Liggett summarizes.
Parents can be good role models by reading books themselves. Liggett suggests the public school program of Sustained Silent Reading for everyone, adults as well as children. She further recommends that parents find an author their child enjoys then search for other books by the same author. Some wonderful resources are the International Reading Association for Children’s Choices and the New York Times recommendations.
Among the greatest rewards of the Reading Rainbow legacy are family literacy projects, according to Liggett. Across America local stations sponsor initiatives that reach out, bringing reading to everyone-including the poorest communities. Reading materials are brought to hospital waiting rooms, parents in prison, and rural communities and with them they bring the joy of reading.
Unfortunately, literacy programs cost money, a factor lacking in Reading Rainbow’s otherwise successful production equation. “My dream of dreams is to have a wealthy entrepreneur, preferably one with kids and grandkids of the same mindset, decide that they want to make a difference in this world by supporting literacy and supporting Reading Rainbow,” Liggett says with a sigh. Funding comes from several different resources, local PBS stations with matching funds; grant money; and companies with a corporate underwriter such as the current sponsor of Reading Rainbow, The Children’s Place.
While waiting for their dream benefactor, Liggett and the Reading Rainbow team struggle together to raise the funds necessary for the top-quality show. Liggett has intriguing plans to use the internet as a fund-raiser. For Reading Rainbow, the future is uncertain. You can support Reading Rainbow by donating to your local PBS station with a note saying you are supporting them because they run quality shows like Reading Rainbow.