The show is designed to encourage reading amongst youth. Using no puppets or gimmicks, this sincere, evenly paced show remains popular among children and educators. It is hosted by LeVar Burton, well known for his role in Roots and in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The show includes a number of segments in each episode. LeVar Burton introduces each segment where he relates interesting facts about turtles, or the Middle Ages, or some other item of interest, whatever the theme du jour may be. The series has kept itself current. In recent years it has tackled emotional issues that other children's programs have historically avoided. Topics like 9-11, childbirth and prison have been presented from the child's point of view. A regular segment has a children's book being read by a noted actor. Hundreds of actors have read on Reading Rainbow including Christopher Plummer, Patrick Stewart, and Donald Sutherland. The final segment of each show, called "You don't have to take my word for it" (from Levar Burton's introductory phrase), has children giving capsule reviews of books. Since the books have all been selected for quality, the reviews are always positive. Librarians, teachers and parents rely on the Reading Rainbow book list as the trusted source for great children's books.
Each episode is introduced with an animation of children reading books to be instantly transformed into astronauts, knights and other people from across space and time as the theme song (originally recorded by R&B legend Chaka Khan) plays.
Reading Rainbow is one of the most adult watched children's shows ever produced. It has won the Emmy for Outstanding Children's Series 7 out of the last 10 years. The series was nominated for 6 more Daytime Emmy awards in 2005.
In May of 2005 the series was honored with another Emmy for Outstanding Children's Series. It also won 3 more Emmys for Writing, Photography and Editing - for a total of four Emmys.
It was the most honored children's series of 2005 and one of the most acclaimed shows in all of television.