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Television Review

'Shaman's' Underscores Magic of PBS' 'Reading Rainbow'


The big-budget reading skills-promoting children's series "Between the Lions" may be PBS' new crown jewel, but that doesn't mean older gems have lost their luster.

One of those is "Reading Rainbow," a show that has quietly promoted children's literacy since 1983. Aimed at ages 4 to 8, the series has earned a steady stream of awards for the caliber of its book-focused content and for its immensely likable host and co-executive producer, LeVar Burton (known to wider audiences as Geordi LaForge in "Star Trek: The Next Generation").

Judging from today's episode, "The Shaman's Apprentice," the series remains as fresh as the vivid and varied books it spotlights.

This special episode, shot on location in a rain forest village in South America, is a good opportunity for old fans to revisit the show and for newcomers to get hooked.

Inspired by "The Shaman's Apprentice: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest," a true-life book by Lynne Cherry and scientist Mark J. Plotkin, the show travels to the book's locale to meet its subject: the boy who became a tribal shaman's apprentice after the man saved his life and who then grew up to take his place.

With Burton as interested participant and observer, viewers glimpse a vibrant life without TV or computers, where the rain forest provides food, shelter and medicine and where "books" of knowledge are passed down orally, one generation to the next.

The adventure is interwoven with a reading of Cherry and Plotkin's book (voiced by Susan Sarandon), and the show ends with real kids' friendly recommendations for related reading. A class act.

* "Reading Rainbow: The Shaman's Apprentice" can be seen today at 1 p.m. on KCET.

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