MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
To fans of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," LeVar Burton is Geordi La Forge.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION")
LEVAR BURTON: (As Geordi La Forge) I materialized upside down above the planet's surface.
BLOCK: The character is blind, but he's able to see by wearing a shiny band across his eyes called a VISOR, for Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement. Before "Star Trek," LeVar Burton was Kunta Kinte in the TV miniseries "Roots." Levar Burton is also known to millions of kids and grown-ups as the host of the children's show on public television "Reading Rainbow."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "READING RAINBOW")
BURTON: Here are some other books that you might like. But you don't have to take my word for it.
BLOCK: The PBS series that encouraged kids to take adventures through reading went off the air in 2009, after a 26-year run. Burton later acquired the rights to the brand and its library, and now he's hoping that "Star Trek" geeks will help pay for an interactive "Reading Rainbow" website. He's offering top funders of a Kickstarter campaign the chance to wear the VISOR.
LeVar Burton joins me to talk about how the experience of reading is changing for children and what he's hoping to achieve. Mr. Burton, welcome to the program.
BURTON: It's a pleasure.
BLOCK: And let's go back to the beginning when "Reading Rainbow" started back in 1983. What appealed to you about it? Why did you decide to sign on as host?
BURTON: It stood out to me as a great use of the medium of television. I had just had my life changed and watched America change with the nightly broadcast of "Roots." And I thought, this makes good sense, to use this incredibly powerful medium to really do some good where kids were, which at that time, in the early '80s, it was the television set.
BLOCK: Well, when "Reading Rainbow" ended, one of the reasons that was given was that there was a shift toward really drilling down on the mechanics of reading - things like phonics and spelling. And "Reading Rainbow" went in a different direction, right? It was really more about the adventure of reading and where it could take you. What did you make of that - of that decision and that shift?
BURTON: Well, personally, it was very - it was painful. It was sad. And it's true, "Reading Rainbow" is not about the rudiments or the fundamentals of reading. It's about the passion. It's about learning how to love the written word and developing a personal relationship with literature and having that be a part of your life for the whole of your life.
BLOCK: There's always this discussion - right? - about whether reading on tablets or online is the same experience, is as valuable as reading an actual, physical book. I assume you've decided that, sure, it is.
BURTON: Yeah. I don't believe it's the same experience, but I do believe it is as valuable. I carry a library around on my tablet. And I love the idea that I can carry a library around on my tablet. So there are huge advantages.
BLOCK: So I was looking through your Kickstarter page and came on the Geordi's VISOR package at the very end. If you give $10,000 - the donor would get a private dinner with you and the chance to wear the one-and-only original "Star Trek: The Next Generation" VISOR. So I gather you got to keep the VISOR.
BURTON: There was one that I wore, and that's the one that I have. And it lives in the box in which it was brought to me by the prop man, Charlie Russo, every day on the set of Next Gen.
BLOCK: You think you'll have some takers?
BURTON: We will.
BLOCK: You know they're out there.
BURTON: I'm pretty certain that they are.
BLOCK: Do you ever take that VISOR out and just kind of put it on for old time's sake?
BLOCK: Come on, confess.
BURTON: OK. Once in a great while, I have occasion to. It definitely takes me back.
BLOCK: Still rocking the VISOR.
BURTON: Once in a while. Once in a while because I can.
BLOCK: Well, LeVar Burton, it's been great to talk you. Thank you so much.
BURTON: Thank you.
BLOCK: LeVar Burton is the cofounder and curator-in-chief of RR Kidz. That's the company behind the latest chapter for "Reading Rainbow."
And since we spoke with LeVar Burton earlier today, the Kickstarter campaign is already more than halfway to its $1 million goal. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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