National Geographic and RRKidz Form Partnership

By Ellen Wexler — January 11, 2013 2 min read
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“We want a book to be a book.”

This is a quote from RRKidz founder LeVar Burton when he first launched the Reading Rainbow iPad app, an interactive digital library based on the PBS reading show, in 2011. Burton stressed that “our intent is to engage young people in reading, not to show them a movie.” Today, the app (which is maintained by parent company RRKidz) offers hundreds of children’s books, and will soon have an even larger variety of content—due to a recently announced partnership with National Geographic.

The Reading Rainbow app offers children the option to either read books on their own or listen to a voice-over narrator read text visible on the screen, and includes a variety of video field trips. According to a Jan. 7 news release, the app’s library is being expanded to include content from National Geographic Kids. Some of the featured titles include Picture the Seasons, a series of books containing seasonal photographs, and the Look and Learn series, with picture books geared toward pre-readers.

While the partnership helps the app build on the original goal of exposing children to traditional fiction and nonfiction, Burton is also cognizant of the app’s role as an interactive tool in the digital world. A new feature, dubbed “Awesome People Island,” does just that.

With the new feature, children will be able to access a variety of books and videos about heroes, historical figures, and even ordinary people who have done something to make a difference. The videos try to connect what children read to the real world and feature virtual field trips to places such as the Oval Office, Air Force One, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

While RRKidz still has a focus on traditional books, it seems likely that it will put increased emphasis on interactive features. According to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project study, the number of Americans who own tablet computers rose from 10 percent to 25 percent between 2011 and 2012. And according to the Huffington Post, more than three-quarters of the country’s approximately 121,785 libraries provide access to eBooks.

The increasingly dramatic shift to online reading has left some wondering whether libraries are becoming outdated, as companies such as RRKidz continue to expand.

“Books and the places that keep them have taken many forms,” Matthew Battles wrote in a recent Room for Debate piece at The New York Times. “And yet, whether it’s the rarefied milieu of the Vatican or the sleepy stillness of a small-town reading room, we tend to subscribe to a set of norms: studiousness, solitude and quiet above all. These connect the sense that all these disparate places really are one place, consistent across times and cultures.”

But of course, this idea becomes irrelevant when a library can be something other than a physical place, like Reading Rainbow.

“I promised parents and children that the Reading Rainbow App would continually evolve,” RRKidz founder LeVar Burton said in the press release. “With this major partnership with National Geographic Kids, we deliver on that promise.”

According to Publishers Weekly, Reading Rainbow will begin displaying National Geographic content this March.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.