LeVar Burton is wearing all sorts of hats these days. The former Star Trek: The Next Generation star is still acting, playing a recurring role in TNT's Perception. He’s the face of Reading Rainbow again, now that it’s back as an app. And tied into that, he’s on the road promoting his – and the Reading Rainbow imprint’s – first children’s book, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. StarTrek.com sat down with Burton earlier this month during a break from his appearance at Destination Star Trek in London for an amiable, informative conversation about all of the above and more. Here’s what he had to say.
StarTrek.com: What was the inspiration for The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, and why now after all these years for a children’s book?
LeVar Burton: I knew it was only a matter of time before I did a children’s book. I’ve been promoting children’s literature for 31 years. I’ve certainly read a lot of them, out loud, for children. When we got control of the Reading Rainbow brand four years ago and launched the app for it and started building this company, we knew that we were more than a one-trick pony. That app was only the first of many things that we had planned. A year ago, we started turning our attention to what the future might bring and, obviously, being in the digital realm with the Reading Rainbow app and producing digital books, it gave us good reason to think, “What would we want to do to launch our imprint, our own digital imprint?” And the only logical answer was, “You know need to write a children’s book, LeVar."
The actual hardcover book is its own thing, with beautiful art and physical pages to turn, and it’s the relatable tale of a rhino who has seen his whole world destroyed in a storm, swallows the storm and realizes that only causes more havoc.
LB: This will be released exclusively in our app, as a digital book. It will also be released as an app itself, as a digital selection. But first it’s coming out as a hardcover book. I’m a firm believer in both. As far as kids are concerned, I don’t care if it’s on a device or in a bound book, I simply want kids to read stories. So I’m a firm believer that in order to be effective, you need to be on as many platforms as you can possibly be. I’m really proud of this book and I hope it will become a tool for families to help children adjust to what it means to deal with difficult circumstances. We’re raising generations of human beings who have very little understanding or practice with the idea of processing disappointment. This is designed to teach kids the value of overcoming difficult circumstances.
The rhino, like you said, has swallowed this storm. He literally finds himself at the bottom of a very deep hole, which is a metaphor for depression, and he learns that it is through the help of others that we get through things, that none of us gets through life on our own. And that’s, I think, the core message, that we don’t do this thing called life by ourselves. It takes the love of friends and family and even strangers to help us through.
How likely is this to be book one of a series?
LB: [Laughs] If you were to ask that question of my business partner, who already has plans for next year, he’d say yes, very likely. Have I written it yet? No. But I’m really proud of this one and it does lend itself to a series, perhaps. I don’t know. I wrote Aftermath a long time ago, in the 80s, and I haven’t gone back to that although I said at the time that I absolutely planned to do a sequel. So, we’ll see. But right now, I’m on a huge promotional tour. I’ll be coming to a city near you, rest assured, doing signings and readings. You can go to www.readingrainbow.com for details.
The recent Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign raised $6.4 million. How will that money be used?
LB: What we are doing with it is making good on the promises we made during the Kickstarter campaign. It was called “Every child, everywhere,” and that is our intention. We’re trying to bring Reading Rainbow to all of the devices where kids consume their content these days. The first move is to the Web and into schools, and it was our pledge to give product away to schools in need, and that’s about 1,500 schools. We’ll be on Android as soon as we can make it happen. Every child… everywhere.
Reading Rainbow and Star Trek are actually intersecting thanks to the Kickstarter campaign. Your TNG co-stars and many other Trek names helped you get the word out and are now participating in live Reading Rainbow events. What did it mean to you to receive that kind of support?
LB: It’s been great. We did our first live event a few weeks ago with the Battlestar Galactica cast, and that was wildly successful. I love my Star Trek friends and they came through for me. So I’m enormously grateful to them and glad that I have the kinds of friends who feel about Reading Rainbow the way they do. The entire time I’ve been a part of the Star Trek family they’ve known about my passion for Reading Rainbow, and they’ve always supported it. So this was another time they really stepped up and came to the party.
How are you enjoying this event, Destination Star Trek?
LB: Good con. Good con. I know that Patrick (Stewart) was here in London a couple of years ago and so were some of my other friends. That was when Destination Star Trek did the Five Captains event. I haven’t been to London in a few years. I love this city, and this is a really good show.
What else is going on?
LB: We’re waiting to see if Perception gets picked up for a fourth season. I love having a recurring role. I get to do some acting and still have time to have a life and to work on Reading Rainbow. I do a lot of traveling to film content for the Reading Rainbow app, and Perception gives me the flexibility to juggle it all. So it really does fit well into my life. If I’m just acting on the show, it’s a couple of days per episode. I directed a couple of episodes last season, and that takes more time, but with enough goodwill everything can be worked out.
Last question: the other day here at DST, someone introduced you on stage as Geordi. You’ve got to be used to that, but does it ever get frustrating?
LB: I have no issues with it at all. I refer to myself sometimes as Kunta. If you can’t have a good sense of humor about yourself, if you can’t poke fun at yourself, if you take yourself too seriously, then you’re in trouble. Any actor would kill to be involved in three projects that are so popular that they become that associated with them. I’ve had Roots, Star Trek and Reading Rainbow. So I’ve been really lucky.
This interview has been edited and condensed.