The show is designed to encourage reading amongst youth. It is a very quiet, slow-paced show, but still remains popular among children and educators. It is hosted by Levar Burton, well known for his role in Roots and in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The show includes a number of segments each episode. Levar Burton has an educational segment where he relates interesting facts about turtles, or the Middle Ages, or some other item of interest, whatever the theme du jour be. Another segment has a children's book being read by a noted actor. Hundreds of actors have read on reading rainbow including Christopher Plummer, Patrick Stewart, and Donald Sutherland. The final segment of each show, called "You don't have to take my word for it" (from Levar Burton's introductory phrase), has children giving capsule reviews of books. The reviews are always positive. Each episode is introduced with cartoons of children reading books to be instantly transformed into astronauts, knights and other people from across space and time as the theme song plays.