Actor Levar Burton launches fundraiser campaign for new ‘Reading Rainbow’

Levar Burton, the actor and former Sacramento resident who for nearly three decades hosted the popular “Reading Rainbow” kids program on PBS, is looking to bring the show back on the Web through an ambitious fundraising effort on Kickstarter.

Burton, who two years ago launched a “Reading Rainbow” app that contains hundreds of interactive books and educational video field trips, is raising funds to produce an online version of the classic show that would be available to monthly subscribers.

The “Reading Rainbow” Kickstarter campaign, which went live Wednesday, hopes to reach $1 million by July 2. As of Wednesday evening, more than 20,000 investors pledged close to $900,000 to the cause.

“ ‘Reading Rainbow’ was a huge resource when it was on the air,” Burton, 57, said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “ ‘Reading Rainbow connects literature with real world experience.”

The money raised on Kickstarter would go toward designing the Web-based version of “Rainbow,” establish a curriculum for teachers and allow for free access to 1,500 classrooms nationwide.

Justin Kazmark, a spokesman for Kickstarter, said the crowdfunding company is supportive of bringing back “Reading Rainbow.”

“This is a chance to bring back the show and introduce it to a new generation of kids,” Kazmark said.

Burton hopes to build off the success of the free “Reading Rainbow” iPad app that he and his company released in 2012, an effort to provide learning opportunities in the classroom and at home.

While Burton said the app was a hit with kids and families, he acknowledged that most households did not have access to a tablet. Burton pointed out that 32 percent of homes have access to a tablet compared to 97 percent of families who have access to the Web.

So Burton turned to the Internet to increase his audience.

“When we launched the app two years ago, kids would come to the app to read,” he said. “That led us to really commit to take this everywhere. Schools are huge part of this.”

Burton, who is starring in the television crime series “Perception,” developed a love for literacy and the spoken word at an early age, when he and his two siblings along with his mother, Erma Burton, a retired English teacher, relocated to Sacramento from Germany.