Twila Liggett: Executive Producer and Creator of Reading Rainbow
Pola Rosen, Ed.D.
watching the successful 20-year-old PBS-TV program Reading
Rainbow, one can’t help but think of the proverbial pot
of gold at the end of the rainbow, which, in this case, is
learning to read—a far more valuable “pot.” Dr. Twila Liggett,
creator and executive producer explains the origin of the name: “rainbows
are always appealing to kids and we wanted our mission to be
Liggett traces her roots to Nebraska where, as a state reading
coordinator, she fulfilled her passion for reading and teaching.
Shortly after earning her doctorate, she decided to work for
a Nebraska educational television network. At that time, there
were a few 15 minute long, curriculum heavy instructional shows
in South Carolina. “I thought there was room for a show about
the joy of reading that would really get kids excited about
books,” said Liggett. Reading Rainbow’s programs carefully
incorporate current literacy understanding with research, humor
and entertainment to ensure that viewers will be absorbed and
will remember the show even years later. In fact, “there is
an incredible recognition by the 20-something and early 30-something
group that recall the show and want to introduce it to their
kids. I’m very pleased that young people remember our series
with great affection.”
about Reading Rainbow has been ongoing through the years. “We
always would pull two or three shows and work with a research
firm that would go out and watch kids watching the show. We
had enormous success in getting books in the hands of children,” said
Liggett. Current research, completed recently by an independent
group, is available on www.readingrainbow.net.
of the amazing aspects of Reading Rainbow is that it’s
put together by a small staff including 3–4 people who work
year round on curriculum. The crew swells at production time
with an additional 10–15 interns and production assistants.
how the content of the show and the books are chosen, Liggett
averred that they work closely with the American Library Service
for Children. The book has to be well written, the illustrations
well done and the content reflective of the diversity of this
country. “We look for a variety of issues that we think affect
kids. We’ve done a lot of math and science to let kids know
of their connection with reading.” If Reading Rainbow does
a science book, they will have an expert review it, then take
it into schools for teachers to read and finally follow-up
with the teachers to see how students reacted to the books.
of the viewers are of Hispanic origin, therefore the show incorporates
Spanish and English into episodes about stereotyping and different
cultures. Using live actors, unusual in most children’s series,
homelessness and its effect on families was examined in a show
called “Fly Away Home.”
mentors included her father. “From the time I can remember,
even before I went to school, he was reading to us and buying
the latest books. My mom would take us to the library. I remember
getting my first library card even before I could read. I remember
loving books. We would play word games while driving in the
believes passionately that parents should read aloud to their
children, even when the children know how to read. She recalls
fondly the principals who permitted her unorthodox teaching
styles such as using kid’s stories as reading material.
of the 20 Emmys that Reading Rainbow has won for Outstanding
Children’s Series, Liggett points out that she operates under
the aegis of the Nebraska Television station, in partnership
with Buffalo (NY) WNED public television.
ultimate goal of Reading Rainbow, Liggett underscores,
is to reach kids with a literacy message; “to build an affection
for and a passion for reading in the early years that will
help us prevent something that is even scarier than illiteracy—aliteracy;
when kids know how to read but choose not to.”
year we had 50,000 kids across the country write and illustrate
their own story. We’re right at the beginning of creating the
Reading Rainbow Universe, of reaching kids on all levels.”#
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