As the host of “Reading Rainbow,” Levar Burton is no stranger to children’s literature. During the show’s 26-year run, he introduced kids to a variety of age-appropriate book titles and continues to do so today with “Reading Rainbow’s” new digital Skybrary.
Now, however, when a child picks up a book to read, they may see Burton’s name on the cover.
For the first time, the award-winning actor has co-written his own children’s book. Titled “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm,” the book stars talking animals and has a timeless quality, yet Burton’s inspiration for it came from the modern world.
“Our children live in a world much more complex and dangerous than the one in which we ourselves grew up—a world of school shootings, bombings and natural disasters of every variety; and it’s impossible for children to escape repeated exposure to these tragedies from an incessant 24-hour news cycle,” Burton writes in the book’s intro. “Our challenge as parents is to help put these tragic events into context for our children. That’s the inspiration behind ‘The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.’”
Following the story within a story format, the reader is first introduced to a little girl mouse named Mica (named after Burton’s daughter) who is afraid of a storm outside because a year earlier, her home was destroyed by a hurricane. Her father comforts her by reading her a book about a rhino whose home is also destroyed by a storm. The rhino manages to swallow the entire storm in what would normally be the heroic climax of the story. Instead, however, Burton takes the reader in a different direction with the rhino going on a journey to find a way to deal with the storm inside of him, which becomes a metaphor for emotional trauma and healing.
Right after swallowing the storm, for example, the rhino is spun like a tornado and winds up in a deep hole where he becomes trapped. This scene is figuratively and literally being stuck in a dark place, and it is only because other animals come to his aid that the rhino is able to get out of his self-made dark hole. Later, the rhino’s journey takes him to a wallowing spot where he deals with both the physical pain of holding a storm inside of himself and the negative emotional impact of the storm coming into his life.
“Stories make difficult issues more approachable for youngsters and give parents and their children a safe haven to discuss feelings and emotions that may be hard to express,” Burton writes. “For my first children’s book, I wanted to offer up a way for children to learn how to live in a world where bad things seems to happen to good people.”
In addition to the struggles of the main character, the story also shows how others recognize and understand the rhino’s struggle and help him as he deals with the storm. The animals who save him during the dark hole scene are symbolic of rescue workers and are referred to as heroic. The wallowing spot scene introduces both the reader and the rhino to the character of the tortoise whose advice is instrumental in helping the rhino take the next important step in his journey. In fact, every scene involving the rhino (and Mica for that matter) reinforces the main message of the book as stated by Papa Mouse:
“You’re never really alone when bad things happen. There are family and friends and even people we don’t know who are always there to help us through the tough times.”
“The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm” is recommended for children ages five – seven. For more information visit www.readingrainbow.com