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Festival of Books: LeVar Burton shares passion for 'Reading Rainbow'

April 12, 2014|By Alicia Banks
  • LeVar Burton does a Reading Rainbow Live session at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
LeVar Burton does a Reading Rainbow Live session at the Los Angeles Times… (Bret Hartman / For The Times )

Around noon Saturday, a stroll down Trousdale Parkway on USC’s campus during the L.A. Times Festival of Books turned up mothers and daughters wearing headbands with balloons shaped like Minnie Mouse’s ears, as well as a person inside a Wienerschnitzel hot dog costume who posed for pictures.

A few yards away, adults sang the first few lines of a popular show at the Children’s Stage: “Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high.…” Before the crowd could continue in chorus, actor LeVar Burton asked whether anyone had seen an episode of "Reading Rainbow," the PBS children's show he once hosted. The many adults raised their hands.

“I expected more kids,” Burton said with a smile. “I guess we’re all kids inside.”

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Moments later, Burton cozied up in a white chair for the Reading Rainbow Live segment. Parents cradled their children as the former "Star Trek" actor told the crowd that hosting the children's show was one of the best jobs of his career. He is now co-founder and curator-in-chief of RRKidz, an organization that encourages children to read.

During his session, Burton opened the cover to an iPad and swiped a finger, turning to the first page of Teresa Bateman’s “Fiona’s Luck.” The story tells of a young girl who uses her wits to make a leprechaun king return luck, held captive in a chest, to an impoverished Ireland.

Burton tapped into his feminine voice range to read the part of Fiona and lowered his pitch to be the leprechaun king. (His take on an Irish accent never wavered.)

The story intrigued 5-year-old Sofia Castañeda, who joined a group of youngsters at the front of the stage.

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“I like oak trees, and it [the chest] was made out of it,” she said with a smile. “But I really liked it when luck came out of the box.”

At story’s end, Sofia leaped into the arms of her mother, April Castañeda. April and husband Guillermo have made attending the festival a tradition for the last 15 years. All members of the family enjoy reading, and Burton’s session was more than just an item on their to-do list.

It brought back memories for April, who grew up watching Burton on TV. “He would really get into the stories,” she recalled. “And growing up, we didn’t have many educational shows to watch. I have to keep that going.”

April said she plans to download the Reading Rainbow app so she and Sofia can continue talking about the stories they have read.

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