My Reading Rainbow

19 10 2010

And now for something completely different.  +1  if you get the reference.

That’s right, this post isn’t about cycling or anything else you’re used to reading on here.  Remembering my last post where I told you I was interested in expanding my writing I’ve decided to take this post in a different direction.  Maybe this is about how our tastes and hobbies change as we mature, maybe this is about our broken education system, and maybe this is just about the greatest books I’ve ever read.  To the point, I’ve recently rediscovered my Reading Rainbow.

First, shoutout to Levar Burton (you can be cool like me and follow him on twitter @levarburton).  This guy is great and always has been.  Everyone should remember him as the host of Reading Rainbow (Nerd Reference: and Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation!), a show that was designed to entice kids to read by showing them different book recommendations always followed by Levar’s tagline “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”  Top it off with an amazing and inspiring intro video (see above).  Amazing!  I loved this show.  The show garnered literally hundreds of awards and the greatest thing about it is Levar Burton was (and still is) legitimately passionate about getting kids to read and learn.  Much respect to Levar and company for such a great long-running show.

Here’s the problem though, I NEVER READ (like red, not reed).  For whatever reason I generally did not like reading as a kid!  I’m pretty sure I actually read one assigned book my entire time in high school (Ender’s Game, incredible book).  Outside of reading the actual assigned books I read a lot of Cliffs Notes…

It was that way for most kids though.  Maybe it’s the short attention span?  I think my problem was being assigned to read stuff from genres I had no interest in.  No offense to Dickens but I wanted nothing to do with Great Expectations.  I’m sure it’s a fantastic book, but am I the only one who sees a problem with getting a 16-year-old to read a book from 1860?  Don’t even get me started on Ivanhoe.  (I should really go back and read it again, I’m sure my perspective has changed.)  This is where I tie it in to our sketchy education system.  We all want the youth of America to be intelligent, free thinking, productive, literate members of society.  We want kids to grow up respecting literacy and the written word.  If you are religious you want your kids be able to read the words in the Bible/Qur’an/Tanakh/Dianetics/The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster/Etc.  We want our youth to grow up to make smart, informed decision when voting.  We want all of society to not only be able to read the words that are written but also to analyze, understand, process and respond to those words.

So where does this leave us?  In an ideal world we want our kids to read and respect great works of literature from great historical authors.  Reality check: kids are not going to read books they don’t like!  I think it’s time we all start being Levar Burton’s and let kids decide what to read based on where their imagination wants to take them.  Most people I know loved To Kill A Mockingbird, I didn’t.  So what did I do?  I skimmed the pages and half-assed my way through that section of the class.  Perhaps if I had designed my own reading assignments from books I wanted to read I would have read more, read faster, learned more, and respected literature more.  Bottom line, we need to start being realistic about fostering literacy among society’s youth.  Let’s tailor reading assignments to the kids who are doing the reading.  Let’s help them become better by using their desires and imagination as a guide.  Will it require a lot of work and a complete redesign of the curriculum?  Probably.  Is it worth?  You bet it is!

I’ve recently rediscovered my Reading Rainbow.  I read what I want now.  I read nerdy fantasy books about knights and wizards and all sorts of other nerdy stuff.  Whatever, I do what I want.  Here’s the nice part:  Instead of skimming the pages and being bored to tears reading something I think is boring, I am now reading faster than I ever thought possible.  I can breeze through books at an astonishing pace when they really grab me.  I actually love reading!  I now have an emotional investment in the characters lives that play out on the pages.  That imagination I had as a kid is coming back.  I can escape from reality for a brief venture into the pages of a book that I truly enjoy, and when one story ends there is no shortage of other books to pick up and find another compelling story.

Levar and Reading Rainbow were right.  I can go anywhere.  I can be anything.  Books have given me friends to know and places to go.  So go pick up a book.  Find time to escape.  Get anything you want, don’t be embarrassed.  Maybe you didn’t read much as a kid either, but there’s no reason you can’t start now.  Just take a look, it’s in a book.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.


Update: So, I randomly decided to tweet my blog post to Levar Burton since he was such an inspiration.  I woke up this morning to find that he not only read my post, and not only retweeted it to all of his followers, but he also sent me a message that really is life changing.  (Also tells you how freaking cool he is!)  The part about “I can be anything” really is true.  Thank you so much to Mr. Burton and everyone else who has come through here and read this post.  I really do appreciate it.




10 responses

19 10 2010
Dena Donnell

WOW…I seriously just sang along to the video…that REALLY took me back!! I big puffy heart loved Reading Rainbow as a kid. We must have watched it together! 🙂 You definitely have a point. I will say though, some things have changed at the Elementary level at least. When I was still in the classroom we actually had incentive programs to get children to read books they enjoyed. The program we used was the Accelerated Reader program and children earned points for reading books and taking short computer tests on them. They were rewarded when they earned a certain number of points. When they reached 100, they got to go up on stage at our weekly assembly to get their free 100 point t-shirt. The kids LOVED it and they would read like maniacs during our “AR” time each day. The system definitely has a long way to go…I remember forcing myself to read books like the Scarlet Letter in high school, so I totally know what you mean. I will say, I’m glad you read now! 🙂 Love you!

19 10 2010

“Take a look, it’s in a book, reading rainbow!” That was a fantastic show. LOVED it! I think you are missing a calling here…writing that is. Keep up the soul searching! Love ya!

20 10 2010
Tina Kubala

It’s a personal mission of mine to put books in the hands of friends who don’t think they like reading. I read everything, but my taste in other things is all over the map, too. But, you are right, not everyone is going to get hooked on classic literature. Reading for joy means reading what you enjoy. Oddly enough, the last book I lent was a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel. I loved Geordi for two reasons: he was Data’s best friend and he was the Reading Rainbow guy.

20 10 2010

Totally agreed, I used to read loads when I was in elementary school and middle school, but I stopped when I was in high school… which is when the “mandatory reading” started… But I’m getting back into it now! 🙂

20 10 2010

It was Great Expectations as a reading assignment that turned me off to reading for enjoyment for years! If I didn’t have a book report to do on it, I would have set it aside and picked up something I liked and would have never stopped reading for enjoyment.

Oh, Man, reading that was horrifically painful. It was to the point I’d get nauseous trying to make my eyes track across those plodding, depressing words only to realize I had to do it again because I was putting all my concentration into eye movement and I hadn’t read a word.

20 10 2010
Jennifer C

Great blog, dude! Love, love, loved Reading Rainbow…that theme song brings a HUGE smile to my face! I probably enjoyed reading a little more than you did as a child (based upon what you wrote), but you are right, I NEVER enjoyed the required reading….Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens were just too old-fashioned for a kid. Now I can’t wait to get kids into bed at night so Mommy can go Nerd-out with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson!!!! It feels liberating to be out of the Book Nerd Closet…Thanks for sharing!

20 10 2010

It’s like you’ve been a fly on my wall for longer than I think I’d be comfortable with if it were true. Lol. But seriously, I was the exact same way about reading in high school. However, I couldn’t do the Cliff’s notes. My teacher was wise to that trick and our quizes were made up of questions that could NOT be answered from the CNs. I almost failed my english classes a couple of times (same teacher) because I had absolutely no motivation to read the mandatory books.

Fast forward 10 years and I’ve found myself blowing through books that grab my attention like the wind blows in a hurricane. I get so addicted to the story I can’t put it down, and I actually get a little sad when the end of the book arrives. I have 3 kids that I hope will stay much more interested in reading than I was. My oldest is 5 and he’s a reading machine!

I guess the weirdest part of reading your post for me, aside from feeling like you picked my brain for the topic, is that my husband and I were just having this as a conversation maybe two nights ago. Pretty random how complete strangers can walk the same path, miles apart, huh? =) You should thank @levarburton (I love Geordi & RR, too!) for posting the link to this on twitter.

21 10 2010
22 10 2010

Well said. You just made me remember, both the reading rainbow theme song which i’m certain will be in my head all day. And back to those early school years, when teachers would assign horrible books like to kill a mocking bird. Which i had no interest in and would use approaches like you mentioned to get by, but then i would go to the library and pull out a multi hundred page star trek paperback and breeze through it. Not realizing that it was not really intended for kids to read. I really like your thoughts on re-emphizing reading to children on their terms. Give them fun things to know ways to grow, and they’ll find the educational gold and the end of the reading rainbow. And thanks to LeVar for reposting this to twitter so i could read this cool article.

4 11 2010
My Kate Spade Kindle Cover « The Long Spin

[…] is my personal favorite!  If you read My Reading Rainbow blog post you’ll know how much I just LOVE Great […]

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