Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton Shares Why It’s Important to Read Classic Tales

LeVar Burton Reading RainbowEditor’s Note: This post was written by LeVar Burton, co-founder of the award-winning Reading Rainbow digital library, host of the original PBS series, and lifelong children’s literacy advocate. Burton is also known for his distinguished TV roles as the young Kunta Kinte on Roots and Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Follow LeVar (@levarburton) and Reading Rainbow (@ReadingRainbow) on Twitter.

People always ask me, “What is your favorite book?” I always give the same answer: “The book that I am reading right now!” From the moment I first cracked the code, it has always been the power of the word made whole in my imagination that has kept me coming back for more.

My first real love in reading was comics. I come from a military family, and for a young American growing up on an Army base in Germany, comics were treasured items from back home. Comics were not only a connective thread to American culture; they were the currency that dominated our social interactions. Every Saturday morning, I would take the box of comics I had finished and was willing to part with, and join the sea of kids on base, trading comics with one another. It was always a thrill getting something brand-new to read, even if the book was already thoroughly used! Science fiction became my genre of choice as a teenager and it still is to this day. Sci-fi invites us to contemplate what I believe are two of the most powerful words in language: what if. It also encouraged me, as a young man faced with the realities of racism, prejudice, and tremendous social upheaval, to imagine a future as I hoped it would become. My reading diet now runs the gamut from biographies to history to mysteries to the occasional Marvel or DC comic title of my youth. It all depends on my mood. It really is the experience of reading that brings me pleasure.

But our kids are not us—and as parents we all know this all too well. The subjects that interest us may not interest them. When our kids are young, the best way I know to encourage them to read is to allow them to pick the subject, the format, and the way in which they experience the written word. Most kids love it when their parents read to them, so I encourage you to read to your children as much as possible. Snuggling up and reading together not only provides comfort and security, but it also emphasizes the value we place on reading. The more your kids see you with a book, the more a message is delivered that reading is an essential part of the human experience. As they become old enough to read themselves, help them find material that is appropriate for their age and reading level, but don’t worry about the subject. Of course we would like them to pick the best literature out there, but that will come with time. For now, trust me, a former comic book addict: If they enjoy reading, they will expand their literary horizons in their own time. If they’re forced to read what doesn’t interest them, you run the risk of extinguishing the spark of excitement for reading that’s so important to their becoming life-long learners and fulfilling their potential.

When you and your child are looking for books to read, sometimes the classics are the best choice of all. There is a reason they are classics—they’ve already stood the test of time. They tend to have familiar themes and they deliver quality life lessons. One of my favorite examples is the story “The Tortoise and the Hare.” It’s believed that Aesop wrote this fable more than 2,500 years ago, and yet it’s hard to find any child today who doesn’t know the story of the hare’s unlikely victory or the timeless lessons of hard work, steadfastness, and the moral that “Slow and steady wins the race.”

So tonight, perhaps you and your child can walk over to the bookshelf, close your eyes, and choose at random what I hope will be, at least in the moment, your favorite book.

Find more household activities that spark your kiddo’s imagination, here.

Watch LeVar read his favorite classic tale, “The Tortoise and the Hare”:

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  1. [...] Burton, actor and children’s literacy advocate, saw the need to create change in our schools and decided to do something about it. Burton, who is [...]