You Can Go Anywhere ... A Review of “Butterfly in the Sky, The Story of Reading Rainbow”

You Can Go Anywhere … A Review of “Butterfly in the Sky, The Story of Reading Rainbow”

By Jacqueline Boggess

Netflix’s newest documentary, “Butterfly in the Sky, The Story of Reading Rainbow,” opens to a full 10 seconds of “Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton silently reading. Despite having attained the distinguished aura that can come with age, he is immediately recognizable and the viewer is put at ease by his on-screen presence. 

Finally, Burton is asked a question and he begins discussing the book he’s reading, “Amazing Grace,” which is from one of his favorite “Reading Rainbow” episodes. He starts to read outloud and after a few sentences the screen is filled with the book’s illustrations. You hear a slight change in Burton’s voice before his younger face appears. We’re back in the show’s heyday, ready to help kids discover the magical worlds that await them in books.

The thoroughly enjoyable documentary discusses the show’s origin, the music, the book selection process, the iconic guest stars, and, of course, the search for the perfect host. 

As we all know, the legendary LeVar Burton hosted “Reading Rainbow” for the 21 years that it aired. When he took the gig, he was already a huge star after playing Kunta Kinte in a very successful miniseries adaptation of the best selling book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” “Roots” was, at the time, the most watched show ever on TV.

But while “Roots” made Burton a star, “Reading Rainbow” made him beloved across the country. He is so adored that there was a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures pleading that he be made the host of “Jeopardy!” after Alex Trebek’s death in 2020.

It’s not hard to understand how he managed his way into our hearts. Burton always believed that life should involve service to others and in “Reading Rainbow” he’d found a way to combine his acting talent with service to America’s youth. He loved reading himself, and wanted to help cultivate that passion in the younger generation. 

But it was more than just Burton’s personality that was so crucial to the impact he had as host. Watching Burton, a Black man, and children of all different races from throughout the country discussing books did more than instill a love of reading. It told kids that no matter what they looked like or where they lived, they had a voice and a story to tell. They mattered. The Black authors and child stars of “Reading Rainbow” discuss in detail the impact Burton and the show had on them throughout the documentary. 

Despite its ultimate success, “Reading Rainbow” wasn’t a shoo-in of a concept. Television, often thought of as the medium that replaced pleasure reading, encouraging kids to read? Unheard of. But the teachers and producers that put the program together knew they could get through to kids. They made sure they could by having kids do real book reviews and by testing concepts with children.

Many of the people who worked on “Reading Rainbow” appear in the documentary including some book review kids and guest star Whoppie Goldberg who briefly discusses her early difficulty with reading. Like Goldberg, I struggled with reading as a child. “Reading Rainbow” was incredibly motivating at a time when reading often represented frustration. If I could get better at it, I could go anywhere.

It is shows like “Reading Rainbow” and the dedicated teachers throughout the country that continue to show kids they can go anywhere if they just take a look…it’s in a book.