Common Sense Review
Updated June 2012

Reading Rainbow Skybrary Family

Kids can "go anywhere, be anything" with vast book and video library
Common Sense Rating 5
  • Visit reading islands to find books and videos related to the island's theme.
  • Backpacks hold up to five books at a time; when kids are done reading one, they can drop it in the return slot.
  • Kids can watch tutorials, such as this dandelion video, that teach them how to use the app.
  • Video field trips include clips from National Geographic, classics from the original TV series, and new ones made specifically for the app.
  • Simple reports show what kids are reading and how much time they're spending with the books.
Access hundreds of videos and real books, all in one easy-to-use app on a single device.
There aren't many cons, but there could be more features that take advantage of the tablet medium.
Bottom Line
Wonderful and practical way to get kids excited about learning and reading -- the greatness of the classic TV series, updated for the 21st century.
Mieke VanderBorght
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 5
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

Keeps the focus strictly on the joy of learning. Beloved host LeVar Burton guides kids through the app, but lets the books and the users be the stars. Promised future enhancements have us excited.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 5

The library of titles covers a wide range of topics, spanning from holidays to music to historical figures. (Books can either be read by kids or narrated.) And the additional library of video clips from the show furthers that education.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

Stickers help keep kids motivated, and parents can monitor how often their kids use the app.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

Fill up your classroom library with one simple device! Kids can read on their own, in groups, or teachers can read books to the class. Let kids lead their own reading adventure and choose their own books, and then have them respond in some way: draw a picture, write a summary, make up a different ending. Use the video field trips to enhance science and history units. Then have kids find books that match the theme. Learning about other cultures? Have kids find a book about a holiday from another culture. This version was made for home use, so it supports up to five different accounts (on iPad only), and has limited progress data available. An educators' version that should have more helpful features for classroom use is in the works.

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What's It Like?

Reading Rainbow is a digital library of over 500 books and videos. Kids visit "reading islands" that organize books by theme (animals, awesome people, and more) and choose books to download to their "backpacks." Kids can read a book on their own or have it read to them, and each book has a few simple animations within and an associated game. Backpacks hold up to five books; when kids are done reading, they deposit their books in the return slot, just like at a library. Kids can also look at the video field trips that explore history, science, animals, and more. Videos are originals, classics from the TV series, or clips from National Geographic Kids. Grownups can search for books by author or title and see a simple report of which books kids have read and how much time they spent reading. An educator version with features uniquely useful for the classroom is in development.

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Is It Good For Learning?

The Reading Rainbow app radiates the same sense of curiosity, adventure, discovery, magic, enthusiasm, and love of reading as the classic TV series, but is customized for the next generation in an easy-to-use app. Though holding a hard copy book in your hands will always be something special, Reading Rainbow offers easy access to hundreds of books that are right at kids' fingertips. It's a nice touch that each book includes the front cover and title page, so reading mimics the experience of opening a real book. As in the TV series, the focus is on two themes: learning about real life (video field trips) and nurturing creativity, imagination, and a love of reading. Other aspects feel a bit like afterthoughts, such as the games and even the sticker system that rewards reading. Kids could learn more about reading independently if they could see the words highlighted as the narrator reads them.

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