The Emmy and Peabody–award winning Reading Rainbow, hosted by LeVar Burton, ran for twenty-three years on PBS. Now young readers can explore the Reading Rainbow app (RRKidz, 2012), which retains a similar style to the show complete with its signature, catchy theme song: “Take a look, / it’s in a book, / a reading rainbow…” The app contains a library of hundreds of children’s e-books in addition to book-related activities and live-action “video field trips” narrated by Burton.
When children enter the app, they are prompted to create a profile including name, age, gender, and three things they like — I chose wizards & fairies, things that go, and animals. These choices allow the app to tailor reading options for each child (accounts can be created for up to five children). The app is geared toward kids ages 3–9 and includes fiction and nonfiction book titles, with new e-books and videos being added every week. There is also a web- and app-accessible parent dashboard where a parent can monitor their child’s reading progress, search for specific e-books by title or author, and manage their subscription. There are three subscription options with this app: a free subscription for five e-books and seven videos, a monthly recurring subscription for $9.99, or a six-month recurring subscription for $29.99.
The app itself is very easy to navigate. The home screen allows access to everything in the app, the most important of which is a portal to different themed floating “islands” where kids can explore “worlds of reading”: Action Adventures & Magical Tales, Genius Academy, Awesome People, National Geographic Kids, Animal Kingdom, My Friends My Family, and Music Mountain. Simply scroll to the island of your choice and tap on it to enter. Once inside, you’ll see two scrolling rows full of theme-connected e-books and videos. There is also a scrolling row of videos to watch about fascinating people, places, and things related to the theme (and all of the videos are also available via a button on the main screen). Within the scrolling row of e-books, some are marked as new or recommended e-books “just for you” (based on the child’s age and interests as chosen in their profile). And some e-books will fit more than one category, so you may see an e-book on several islands’ lists. After you select an e-book, there is a sneak peek description to introduce the e-book to a reader. If you want to get the e-book, just click yes when prompted and it will download in your “backpack.”
A child’s backpack is reachable via the home screen, where you’ll also have easy access to everything in the app. You can see the e-books you’ve checked out when you click on the backpack (the design of which is customizable — I chose the sports theme). You can only have five e-books in your backpack at a time, so when you’re finished reading an e-book just “return” it through the return slot so you can check out another e-book. There are also helpful “how-to” videos in your backpack. Once you click on an e-book in your backpack, it’s time to read!
There are two modes of reading: “read to me” and “read by myself.” While reading an e-book, there is the option to browse through the page spreads, pause the narration by touching the text, and play a game (although I was only able to play a matching game with each of my five e-books). When you want to leave an e-book, just click on your backpack and it will bring you back out of the e-book so you can continue exploring the app. If you come back to an e-book you haven’t finished yet, the app will return you to the page where you stopped reading. After you’ve completed an e-book, sticker rewards are given to motivate further reading.
Right now the available e-books are from publishers including Charlesbridge, Holiday House, National Geographic Kids, Kindermusik, Abrams, Sleeping Bear, Shenanigan, Peachtree, Kane, and Little, Brown. While there’s nothing flashy to be found within the app’s e-books, the extensiveness of this collection makes it an invaluable resource that will provide children with hours of education and entertainment. “But,” as LeVar Burton says, “you don’t have to take my word for it” — check it out yourself.
Available for iPad (requires iOS 5.1 or later); free. Monthly subscription to content is $9.99, or a six-month subscription is $29.99. Android and web versions coming later this year. Recommended for preschool through intermediate users.