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In Memoriam: Common Sense Media Movie Critic Sandie Angulo Chen Laments the End of Reading Rainbow

Posted by Jen on September 2, 2009 at 7:09 AM in Jen
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My good friend and PBS fan Sandie Angulo Chen and I were sitting at my kitchen table the other night mourning the loss of Reading Rainbow--a television show as dear to us as Mister Rogers neighborhood itself. While I saw the show's end as a natural turn of events--when was the last time your kid read a book because they essentially saw a review on TV?--my friend Sandie (who also happens to be a career journalist and very savvy media critic for Common Sense Media) pointed to the end of an era and a particular relationship we as parents have with the media when it comes to books and the love of reading.

I invited her to share her full opinion here, and I invite you to respond. Do you think our culture is falling short in teaching the love of reading to children by creating shows that focus specifically on the mechanics?

I'll give you my two cents in a separate post, but I wanted you to hear Sandie's take on it:

It was with a surprising sadness that I read that PBS' third-longest-running series, Reading Rainbow, would be airing its final episode on Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 -- after 26 years on television. I couldn't stop singing the theme song -- "Take a look, it's in a book, Reading Raaainbow" -- for days, and I felt like it was the end of an era.

To me, the show's end signals a fundamental shift in the way we view educational television -- and possibly childhood literacy as a whole. The emphasis, as PBS' Vice President for Children's Programming Linda Simensky told NPR last week, is no longer on teaching a love of books or an introduction to great children's literature, but on teaching young kids how to read. Full stop.

Why can't there be room for both in children's television? Of course shows like Super WHY! and WordGirl should be commended for providing preschoolers with the tools to unlock words. As studies have shown, kids who aren't necessarily read to at home benefit most from these types of early literacy programs. In fact, educational television is preschool for some children.

But what about kids who are read to on a daily basis, who do take trips to the library with their parents? Reading Rainbow spoke to them, reinforcing their love of books by stressing literary themes and the out-and-out wonder of storytelling. It provided the tools for examining a book -- thinking about its plot, its themes, its life applications. That's just as vital, in my opinion, as learning to break down a word phonetically or how "cat" and "hat" rhyme.

Like many adults in their twenties and thirties, I have fond memories watching LeVar Burton introduce new books (at age 6 or 7, I desperately wanted to be chosen as one of the kids who gave book reviews on the show). As a mother, I've often referred to the show's Web site for book recommendations, many of which are among my children's favorites.

It's a shame that there won't be any additional Reading Rainbow picks for my children to enjoy. It's a shame that a show about the joy of reading can't co-exist with programs stressing how to read.

What do you think? Give it to us straight Supersisters--in the comments below.


Missy K writes...

I could not agree more with Sandie. The programs that teach the skill of reading are fine, and my kids have enjoyed them. But there is something to be said for a program that portrayed books as a journey, as made up of both their language and their artwork, as something kids could not just read, but encounter and have an opinion about. I worry when kids' programming seems to define reading as just a skill to be mastered, especially as I consider those kids who aren't read to at home.

I guess I wish we could teach the skill and impart the love.

Alice writes...

Amen to Sandie's opinion. As a librarian of many years, currently in a middle school, I've witnessed first hand children's relationships to books. I love the fact that our comfortably middle class students will check out a book with a battered and much repaired cover because a friend has recommended it, while books with pristine covers sit untouched. Librarians use book talks, book blogs, etc. to get the word out so that the pristine books can become "loved" too. We are a middle school that reads and scores at or above on standardized tests in reading, because our teachers make reading an integral part of the curriculum, with students reflecting and discussing what they read. The local middle schools that score at or below in reading are the ones that depend upon computer programs to promote reading by asking them questions about the books they've read.

Anne writes...

I really think that there is no one left to teach kids about reading for the pure joy of reading unless parents are able to take on that roll. School librarians have been replaced with media specialists who must spend a lot of time teaching children how to use technology and teachers have to be able to keep the reading scores high which doesn't often allow time for reading for enjoyment. My son asked me why I wanted him to read a book about a certain student wizard when he could just "watch the movie". I told him that the "pictures" are much better when you read the book.

Jalena writes...

I'm so sad that the Reading Rainbow is no more! I grew up LOVING the show. My daughter is 1 1/2 and although I have read to her since infantcy, she is just now starting to actually look through books herself and brings me books to read with her. When this new phase was just starting Reading Rainbow memories came flooding back to me. Instantly I thought 'it can't still be on, I'm 27, that was years ago'. It breaks my heart that my daughter will not be growing up with the show.

I try to teach her that reading for enjoyment is fun and I have my face in a book, a newspaper or magazine at the first sign of down time on a daily basis. I feel I owe much of my love of reading to the RR.

Hopefully PBS will work something out in the future to create some balance in both areas. The love of reading is just as important as the mechanics.

sad, sad, sad

Kerri writes...

I also loved Reading Rainbow as a kid!! Our library has older seasons of RR on DVD and tape. Perhaps others do as well! I'm not ready to say good bye to it, just yet!!

mary writes...

i am very diapointed to hear that Reading Rainbow will not be on the air anymore. as a child i grew up watching reading rainbow and will now never be able to watch it again or to see my children experience it. i am not happy with pbs discontinuing this show. hopefully they change there mind:)!!!!

mary writes...

i am very diapointed to hear that Reading Rainbow will not be on the air anymore. as a child i grew up watching reading rainbow and will now never be able to watch it again or to see my children experience it. i am not happy with pbs discontinuing this show. hopefully they change there mind:)!!!!

katie writes...

I think it is important to teach children the reason for reading as well as the mechanics of reading. Reading for pleasure is as important as reading for information. Both types of reading increase our knowledge and can improve our lives. Perhaps the executives at PBS need to do little more reading on the development of a child's knowledge. It wouldn't hurt for them to do a little reading for pleasure themselves.

Jennifer writes...

Reading Rainbow is an excellent show and LeVar Burton a stellar host. It is a shame that they have aired their final episode... I am saddened by this news for all of the reasons mentioned above. We have learned so much from RR and LeVar... I hope PBS realizes their mistake.

Elizabeth writes...

I've always existed in the world where once you learn to do something, you try and surround yourself/seek out things that enhance that new skill (and really, even in the learning process it's good to surround yourself with inspirational examples to keep you motivated and excited). I guess I never really occurred to me that Reading Rainbow would be considered to be superfluous by the powers that be somewhere—it's such a good advocate for the joy and sustainability of reading.

It definitely stings to read the reason for the show's ending wasn't that LeVar Burton was just done (we all could understand being ready to end a long but rewarding experience), but that someone else decided the ship had sailed.

Mig writes...

Although I wished it had been around for me when I was of the appropriate age, Reading Rainbow came along after I was older. And I don't have any kids. Nonetheless, I knew it was there and valued it as a resource for others. I'm slightly baffled at why it's felt that so much programming must focusing on learning (hm, what are schools for, again?) and that there is no room for appreciation, or utilizing the skill. I've been a PBS supporter, both in word and deed for decades. All my adult life, in fact. I don't just support it for what it can give to me but for what it can give to others. And I strongly believe in a diversity of exposure, especially for the young.

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