Sunday, June 1, 2014

'Take a Look, It's in a Book'

by Bill Doughty

LeVar Burton was Kunta Kinte in the 1977 televised mini-series of Alex Haley's "Roots," a story about life-and-death struggles of an earlier generation (from the book by Alex Haley, a former chief journalist in the U.S. Coast Guard). Burton also starred as Geordi La Forge, wearing a prototype/future version of Google Glass in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." For this  21st-century generation, Levar Burton is known as the face and voice of "Reading Rainbow."

That wildly successful PBS series ran for 23 years starting in 1983 and lives on in Burton's various initiatives to promote books and reading for families, schools and libraries.

Burton and daughter Mica
Burton, an author, actor and activist, is bringing online reading and imagination-education to "a new generation of digital natives, launching a tablet-based children’s reading service in 2012 with hundreds of quality books and new educational video field trips," according to rrkidz, "the app quickly became and remains the #1 educational app, with over 13 million books read and videos watched in the first two years."

“Over 131,000 books a week are being read by children using our service in 47 countries across the world including China, India, South Africa, Israel, and Japan," Burton said.

This past week, Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to further expand what he calls the "love, adventure and passion" of reading. He allotted 35 days to reach a goal of one million dollars, but hit that mark in the first day -- $3M in three days -- a testament to the support for Reading Rainbow and Burton's commitment to "changing the world, one children's book at a time."

Burton explains, “Reading Rainbow [is] on a mission to make a difference in the lives of children, families and schools around the world.” The Kickstarter campaign will help provide universal access to a web-based version of Reading Rainbow, an educator-specific version with teacher tools, and free access to the service for the nation's neediest schools.

Reading Rainbow represents another avenue for deployed service members who want to read to their children, alongside United Through Reading and similar initiatives by community libraries.

Writers LeVar Burton and Alex Haley.
LeVar Burton was born in to a U.S. Army family at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, West Germany. 

Like Alex Haley, who was a photojournalist in the Coast Guard, Burton's father, Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, was a photographer, but he served in the Army Signal Corps. LeVar's mother, Erma Jean, was a social worker, administrator and educator.

In the Star Trek TV series, Burton was Lieutenant Junior Grade La Forge, in the movies he'd been promoted to lieutenant commander.

Fun fact: Burton's favorite storybook character, he says, is Spot from the classic children's book, "See Spot Run."

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