When I was a kid, I loved Reading Rainbow. The show promoted reading, and was right up there on my list of faves with Mister Rogers and Sesame Street. If you’re not old enough to recognize two out of those three titles, please don’t tell me. However I think a lot of you are. Which is why this summer, when Reading Rainbow came back as an iPad app, there was a collective shriek of joy from parents of a certain age.

While it’s been out a couple months, I wanted to really spend some time with it first to see if I could recommend it wholeheartedly. There are some wonderful things about it, but there are a few changes that could make it even better.

I love that the show was re-imagined as an app by original show host, LeVar Burton. It’s designed for kids 3-9, and literally puts hundreds of books at their finger flicks.

By checking out themed islands–Animal Kingdom, My Friends, My Family and Genius Academy–kids can scroll through long lists of curated books and in-app video “field trips” customized to their age and interests. Preferences and a virtual backpack for storing e-books are chosen and set at first log in. One downside: only one child can be added, which means different-aged siblings can’t share. That’s definitely a fix I’m hoping for in the next upgrade (as will any parent who has kids who fight over screen time and log-in names).

Reading Rainbow app for kids

Each book features audio narration from actors like Burton himself, plus very light animation–although it doesn’t really add much. There’s a reward system for reading that lets kids earn digital stickers, and parents can check out their kids’ progress on ReadingRainbow.com. Updates regarding time spent reading, books read, suggestions for new stories based on interests, plus “Family Reading Time” hints to get parents and kids talking about themes and lessons explored in each book are all stored in a dashboard there.

Reading Rainbow app

Currently, the app includes 150 books and 16 video field trips. Plans for the rest of 2012 include expanding the app’s library of content, which will be great for my older kid, who loves this app a lot more than I thought he would. He wants to choose new books every night and it’s become a lovely part of the bedtime routine.

The Reading Rainbow app is free for download on the iPad–just to let you explore–and includes the ability to see the themed islands, videos and one book to read. After that, you’ll need a subscription. The introductory price is $9.99 a month or $29.99 for six months, but be careful since that subscription offer shows up in-app. Still, $5 a month is a great price if your kid tears through more than a printed book or two a month like mine.

Fortunately kids can’t choose new books without an internet connection; however my first grader did discover that books already stored in his backpack can be accessed when we’re in the car. Both of us liked that part–a lot–especially about two hours into running boring grown-up errands. His words. –Pilar

Download Reading Rainbow for iPad for free on iTunes, but be careful with that expensive in-app subscription offer.