Butterfly in the Sky: 10 Great Reading Rainbow Episodes for Teachers, Librarians, and Readers Everywhere

Ashlie Swicker


Ashlie (she/her) is an educator, librarian, and writer. She is committed to diversifying the reading lives of her students and supporting fat acceptance as it intersects with other women’s issues. She's also perpetually striving to learn more about how she can use her many privileges to support marginalized groups. Interests include learning how to roller skate with her local roller derby team, buying more books than she'll ever read, hiking with her husband and sons, and making lists to avoid real work. You can find her on Instagram (@ashlieelizabeth), Twitter (@mygirlsimple) or at her website,

June 6th, 2018, marked the 35th anniversary of the beloved children’s show Reading Rainbow. It’s hard to find a person among us who hasn’t been touched by this show in some way. I was sure I would get blank stares when I asked my third grade students to guess the title of a show I loved about reading, but one student said she watched Reading Rainbow episodes with her dad. The Reading Rainbow flag still flies!

The Pin

As a child, Reading Rainbow was a celebration of the books I absolutely adored. We had no cable and PBS was always on in the background, but I always came running when butterfly in the sky came floating through the halls of my house. As a teacher and now a school librarian, Reading Rainbow has always been there for me in a pinch. Rowdy bus dismissal time? Throw it on the projector. Book Fair set up needs to happen? Share the link in the computer lab!

My favorite aspect of revisiting the series is that it aged SO WELL. From the beginning, Reading Rainbow has featured stories about a range of issues and introduced us to children and authors from a range of cultures. It’s particularly perfect for elementary school use; no matter what you’re studying or what topic you’d like to use to start a conversation, Reading Rainbow has an episode for you. Here are my top ten as of right now, but you don’t have to take my word for it…


10 great Reading Rainbow episodes for teachers and librarians


Season 11 Episode 9: And Still the Turtle Watched

This episode covers the restoration of natural habitats and the connection between animals and Native American lore. Viewers see eagles hatching at the Sutton center.

Season 20 Episode 1: Visiting Day

In this episode, we meet kids who have parents in prison. The Gooden family shares what it is like to have a father who has been in prison for eight years and what it’s like to be a “prison kid.”

Season 2 Episode 3: Ox Cart Man

LeVar Burton visits Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts and learns about farming and daily life. (This was one I *had* to add, because as a child, I was obsessed with the sweet rhythm of the book Ox Cart Man)

Season 4 Episode 10: Abiyoyo

In this episode about expressing emotion through music, we get a special visit from Run DMC (yes!) and also meet a dance troop. Musical expression at its finest!


Season 19 Episode 4: Our Big Home: An Earth Poem

Perfect for discussions about citizenship and community, this episode features kids making the world a better place. Many children who volunteer are featured!

Season 21 Episode 1: The Biggest Test in the Universe

Way too relevant for today’s students, this episode is centered around dealing with stress caused by big events such as standardized testing and auditions.

Season 4 Episode 2: Alistair in Outer Space

Libraries, libraries, libraries! This one is included purely because it’s all about libraries.

Season 2 Episode 5: A Chair For My Mother

A Chair For My Mother is one of my favorite books of all time and incredibly relatable for any child familiar with the concept of saving up for something special. Visits in this episode include a dance troop and a firefighter.

Season 21 Episode 4: Game Day

Sports stories! This episode has a book by athletes Tiki and Ronde Barber, a set of teenage twins training for the Olympics, and an athlete who has suffered a brain injury and hopes to return to his sport.

Season 20 Episode 2: Unique Monique

Lots more twins, lots more celebration of individuality, a boy who overcame stuttering,  and Unique Monique by Maria Rousaki.

For more Reading Rainbow nostalgia, check out this post about one Rioter’s connection to the show.