Creating Reading Rainbow: The Untold Story of a Beloved Children’s Series

In 1983, Reading Rainbow was launched, setting the stage for it to become the most successful PBS children’s series in television history. What many people might not know is that the show – hosted by LeVar Burton for more than 20 years – was created by Tony Buttino Sr. and his colleagues at WNED-TV, the public television station in Buffalo. The iconic children’s series, which managed to nab national and international awards including 26 Emmys and a Peabody Award, went on to attract a whopping 6.5 million young viewers at the peak of its 26-year run.

If you grew up on Reading Rainbow… this book is for you.

LeVar Burton

The concept for the show began when Buttino Sr. and his colleagues realized that during the summertime, there were children who were not reading because they were no longer in school (known as the “summer loss phenomena”). Reading Rainbow was developed as a way to encourage children to read, no matter what time of year, or where they found themselves. With the help of celebrity guest readers, as well as plenty of other inventive ways to attract youngsters to tune into the show, the reading series became one of the most acclaimed children’s television series in history.

Now, Buttino Sr., Barbara Irwin (worked with WNED-TV on Reading Rainbow), and Pam Johnson (also worked with WNED-TV on Reading Rainbow), have co-authored a book that tells the intriguing backstory of the creation of the children’s series, and how it came to be as wildly successful as it did.

What led to the series being called Reading Rainbow? How did the road to Reading Rainbow wind its way through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood? How did a public television station in Buffalo spearhead a movement in education and spark the passion for reading in millions of children? And, what does lasagna have to do with it?

All of these questions are answered in the book, as are plenty of others that will help to tell the full story about the beloved Reading Rainbow series, and its formations in Buffalo.

This book is available for pre-order, with a release date of June, 2024.

Creating Reading Rainbow The Untold Story of a Beloved Children’s Series will be out in June.

978-1-4930-7732-8 $29.95, Hardback

Imprint: North Country Books

June 2024

296 pages

Size: 6 x 9

Category: Performing Arts (Television / History & Criticism)

Includes: 41 Images 

The Authors:

Barbara Irwin, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita of Communication at Canisius University in Buffalo, New York. Specializing in media studies, she taught courses in media and children, public broadcasting, and media literacy. Irwin worked as a Reading Rainbow Project Assistant in the Educational Services department at WNED-TV during the early years of the series. In 2011, she was named a Faculty Fellow of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation. Frequently sought after by local and national media, her interviews have appeared on National Public Radio, E! Entertainment Network, and in USA Today and The Los Angeles Times, among others. Dr. Irwin is an authority on daytime television and media history, and co-authored the New York Times bestseller The Young and the Restless Most Memorable Moments and The Young and the Restless Special Silver Anniversary Collector’s Edition.  

Tony Buttino Sr. is best known for his leadership in the creation of the Emmy award-winning Public TV series Reading Rainbow. Most of his forty years of working at WNED-TV were spent utilizing and marketing instructional television (ITV) as a teaching and learning tool. And for his efforts, his colleagues affectionately refer to him as the “Father of ITV.” A multi-year effort to use television to bridge the summer reading gap led to the creation of Reading Rainbow, which began as a summer series on PBS, reaching over 6 million beginning readers in its first season. The series went on to become a year-round sensation and was broadcast for 26 years – among the longest running children’s series on PBS. Although as co-executive producer Buttino garnered five Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children’s Series, he says his biggest accomplishment is being able to reach youngsters through television and motivating them to read.

Pam Johnson, Ph.D., is Executive Director of Ready To Learn at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a school readiness program developed in partnership with PBS KIDS, leading children’s content producers, researchers, and America’s public media stations with funding from the U.S. Department of Education. Prior to joining CPB, Dr. Johnson served as Vice President for Education and Engagement at WNED-TV where she spearheaded learning services and advanced innovative initiatives including ThinkBright TV, the Buffalo Professional Development and Technology Center, and Reading Rainbow’s national outreach and web priorities. With a passion for exciting children and their grown-ups about learning through media, Johnson shares that it all began as a station intern working closely with her longtime colleague and friend, Tony Buttino, during Reading Rainbow’s early years.

The post Creating Reading Rainbow: The Untold Story of a Beloved Children’s Series appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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