Wilmington Public Library hosts LeVar Burton for storytime with children

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Actor LeVar Burton, 63, greets hundreds of young students at the Wilmington Public Library on Thursday, Feb., 20, 2020, in downtown Wilmington, Delaware.    ( Butch Comegys for WHYY)

Actor LeVar Burton, 63, greets hundreds of young students at the Wilmington Public Library on Thursday, Feb., 20, 2020, in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. ( Butch Comegys for WHYY)

More than a hundred small children gathered on the floor inside the Wilmington Public Library Thursday to hear LeVar Burton tell their favorite stories.

The kids cheered as the star of the classic PBS show “Reading Rainbow” asked, “Do you want to hear a story?” 

The children listened intently as he read “Amazing Grace,” “Enemy Pie,” and his own children’s book, “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm,” changing his voice to imitate the characters.

Young school students listen to actor LeVar Burton read a book at the Wilmington Public Library on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

“Reading out loud to children is one of the most pure forms of storytelling I know,” said Burton, also known for his roles in “Roots” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“It’s what we have been doing as human beings for millennia. It’s the stories we tell each other that form the basis of culture and civilization. They help frame for us who we are, why we’re here, and what we’re doing while we’re here.”

The award-winning show “Reading Rainbow,” one of the longest-running children’s programs on PBS, ran for 23 seasons between 1983 and 2006.

Brian Eng said he brought his kids Hayley, 11, and Parker, 7, to the event because he grew up watching “Reading Rainbow” and is a “Star Trek” fan.

Young school students listen to actor LeVar Burton read a book at the Wilmington Public Library on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

“I just remember it was always very soothing. LeVar Burton has this great reading voice, and he would do the voices. Watch the pictures, and it was like you had someone reading to you in the room,” he recalls.

“Reading, and a love of reading, is so important. It’s not the only thing, but it helped instill that in me and my family.”

Parent Stephanie Baughn said she and her sister watched “Reading Rainbow” faithfully as children. After Burton read a new book on the show, the sisters went to the library to find it on the shelves. Baughn said she wants to instill that same passion in her 5-year-old daughter, Jasmine.

“I need her to get involved in reading. LeVar Burton is the reason why I love reading so much and I thought this was a good place to learn how exciting reading can be,” she said. “It taught me about imagination, and how books allow you to use your imagination and put yourself into a story, and it gave me an overwhelming love for reading and books.”

Actor LeVar Burton, 63, reads a book titled ‘Amazing Grace’ to hundreds of young school students at the Wilmington Public Library on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

Burton said he’s pleased his first fans are educating their children about the importance of reading, especially as resources for libraries are on the decline.

“This is a generation of parents who grew up on ‘Reading Rainbow,’ so they know there’s nothing in the television landscape out there for their kids that they had when they were kids,” he said. “And they look fondly on their relationship with ‘Reading Rainbow,’ and by extension, their relationship with me.”

Burton said it’s that generation that was responsible for the success of his 2014 Kickstarter to bring back a web-based version of “Reading Rainbow” for classrooms. The campaign set out to raise $1 million, but ended up raising over $5 million. It follows the success of “Reading Rainbow” for the iPad, which began in 2012.

Today, Burton reads short stories on his podcast, “LeVar Burton Reads.”

“I’m going to continue telling stories until I drop. As different technologies emerge, I’m going to try to tell stories on those platforms too,” he said. “I had no idea three years ago I would be so into podcasting. I love my podcast. I love doing my podcast. I love the response my podcast gets.”

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