Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reading Rainbow Tribute

Published September 13, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

“Butterfly in the sky…I can go twice as high…” If you’re my age or younger or you have a child who is my age or younger, you’re probably quietly singing, “Take a look! It’s in a book! A Reading Rainbow!” and remembering quality time spent with this beloved PBS show. Can you believe that show’s been on the air since I was six? Of course you can because it’s amazing.

Well, it was.

If you hadn’t already heard, I’m very sorry to let you know that Reading Rainbow is no more. A victim of budget cuts, Reading Rainbow aired it’s final show just over a week ago, ending its 26 year run on public television. I heard the news from the man himself, host LeVar Burton, in an interview he gave on public radio. The news had me sobbing all the way to work.

There are many things in this world that can bring me to tears. By many, I mean most. I cry whenever I pass a tough test. I cry every time one of my children performs on stage. I weep regularly over the vast number of Americans who don’t know the difference between “you’re” and “your.” I was not prepared to grieve this passionately over a TV show I haven’t watched in years.

As I listened to callers express heartfelt expressions of appreciation for Mr. Burton’s work and share their favorite episodes of the show, my own favorite came quickly to mind. I see LeVar Burton decked out in specialized gear, standing outside the entrance to a cave with the episode’s designated expert. He smilingly informs my younger self that exploring caves is called, “Spelunking,” then turns eagerly to enter. I am rapt. Spelunking. What an amazing word.

Any true collector of favorite words can tell you the word that started it all, and there was mine. Of all the ways to express the act of exploring a cave, someone had chosen this exquisite word. I took it as a gift and have treasured it since. I’ve been spelunking a time or too, and I still can’t tell you if I receive more enjoyment from the act of spelunking or the fact that I can say I’ve been spelunking. Either way, every time I think of the word, I think of the episode of Reading Rainbow and know the show helped to plot the course of my life. I became a reader, an avid one, and a lover of amazing words.

I originally intended to write a comical “Save Reading Rainbow” column, but my reverence for the show forestalls most attempts at levity. Reading Rainbow had a profound impact on my life as I’m sure it did on yours. The people behind it understood the great importance of reading and created a generation of youngsters who still value books today.

To all the people at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the producers, directors, cast and crew of Reading Rainbow, I offer my thanks for a job well done. To LeVar Burton, you have my gratitude for years of dedicated service to the cause of literacy and for a favorite word that changed my life. Your show will be sorely missed.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.