Levar Burton: Reading, Skybrary and Literacy

May 2, 2016 by


Levar Burton: Reading, Skybrary and Literacy

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) First of all, can you tell us about your role as keynote speaker at the Texas Library Association Conference, and what is the title and topic of your speech?

It was such an honor to be the keynote speaker for the Texas Library Association Conference. I believe that literacy is the birthright of every single one of us, no exceptions! In my speech I wanted to share my personal experience of more than 30 years of education advocacy and what I have seen succeed in my efforts to help set children on the path to becoming literate human beings who are passionate about reading. 

2) Tell us about the epic return of Reading Rainbow through Kickstarter and your involvement in it.

I am so thankful that over 105,000 backers supported our campaign. At the time it was the largest funded project in Kickstarter history, raising $5.4 million in just 30 days. Our friend, Seth McFarland, donated another million – raising our overall total to $6.4 million. It was incredible experience. Since our Kickstarter campaign ended, we have been able to bring literacy to more children, with the expansion of Skybrary Family, a digital world of interactive books & videos, to the web and select Android devices in May 2015. Just last month, we released our educator specific version, Skybrary School. We are also in process of donating Skybrary School to 10,000 classrooms in need, all across the United States.

3) How is the Reading Rainbow Skybrary Family and Skybrary School changing the reading experience for children and for adolescents?

Our goals with Skybrary Family and Skybrary School are to:

·  Open minds by complementing reading with real-world learning experiences

·  Increase comprehension through purposeful interactivity

·  Transform a child’s relationship to reading by making it fun and interesting

4) On a more personal note, what do YOU like to read and who are your favorite authors?

The book that has maybe been most pivotal to my becoming a reader was Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. As far as who are my favorite authors now… Well, I love Science Fiction because it takes on the difficult but eternally hopeful question of What If? It is in the exploration of that question that all things in this realm become possible. That’s science fiction literature in a nutshell. I cut my teeth on Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein, and still have a great respect for them. Now as an adult, my favorite science fiction author has to be Octavia Butler. If you haven’t read her yet, RUN and pick up her books.

5) What do librarians need to know about the reading habits of kids today?

When we give kids access to a rich library of books and other media sources, in a form that resonates with them, we provide opportunities for learning that are SO much deeper, MUCH more personal and most importantly, STUDENT DRIVEN.


6) If you could beam or transport five authors to the Holodeck of the Enterprise- who would they be? And what would you discuss?

I think the most important things we as a society should be addressing right now are education and division. Our culture is dangerously polarized. You can see it in the current presidential candidates. But it all stems from anger and emotion. Let’s bring back education and intelligent discourse. If you want free, independent thinkers, people who can discern for themselves, people who want to actively participate in a democracy, you want them literate and educated.

Who has the right kind of genius and optimism to tackle this? I’d want Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Maya Angelou, Alex Hayley, Fred Rogers, and Gene Roddenberry himself (who absolutely counts as an author.) Having all this intelligence, drive, creativity, and compassion, all in one place… Imagine what we could do with a think-tank like that!

7) Where can our readers get more information about Reading Rainbow, and Kickstarter and Skybrary School? And who came up with these names?

People can go to www.readingrainbow.com to learn more.

The name “Skybrary” literally means library in the sky, and it was truly a company-wide effort to determine the name! To start, our marketing department came up a whole bunch of prospective names, and then everyone in the office participated in the voting process, determining the final name. In the end, Skybrary was the clear favorite.

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