But the big question is, do you remember an instrumental rock ‘n roll theme song that makes reading look like an epic adventure?
If you said yes, then you probably do remember!
I love to read. If the countless book reviews and a whole month dedicated to favorite children’s books is any indicator, reading has been a big part of my life since I could. I started reading before Kindergarten, but I could identify sight words even earlier. My mom tells this story about how my dad had the newspaper opened on the living room floor to the Classifieds, and two-year-old me walks by, sees the logo for “Bamberger’s” (now Macys) on the page, and proudly said it.
Yes, two years old. Pretty sure it was impressive. Or weird. Or, given my personality now, not at all surprising.
You’d think with a start like that, identifying brand logos in the local newspaper, a life of shopping was my destiny, but it was not. Did it prepare me for playing “Mall Madness?” That’s even more likely.
I do love to shop, but reading, blogging, crafting, and the fascinating world of vision care were actually my destiny. However, those humble beginnings of logo identification led to an interest in books. I also liked Saturday morning cartoons, but who didn’t? So, you throw in books, combine them with Saturday morning cartoons, and you get a very interesting concept that only expands upon the interest Reading Rainbow commanded during weekday mornings. That show discussed books, but this show brought them to life.
And to think, it started out on Captain Kangaroo, which was where an interstitial program from the 1970s (one I’ve talked about) also got its start. But instead of emphasizing you being the Most Important Person (and you hardly even know you!), this one is all about reading and animation.
As the song goes, come on we’ll show you!
CBS Storybreak was an anthology-based children’s program, airing on Saturday mornings on well, you guessed it, CBS.
The series began airing in 1985, but has its roots in Captain Kangaroo as a feature. So it was only natural that Captain Kangaroo himself, Bob Keeshan, host the show. And for twenty-six episodes, he did! And he did so from an animated park backdrop that I’ve never forgotten.
The stories were fully animated, and came from then-contemporary children’s books, many of which we read in elementary school at the time, and even into the 1990s. Because it was how we earned our pizza and star stickers!
The animation for each episode was done by Hanna-Barbera’s Australian Unit, as well as Australia’s Southern Star Productions, which had a stake in animated children’s programming in the United States. After a theme song and introduction that screams “READING IS COOL!”, we’re transported into the world of introductions, and then, the story itself!
This theme! Because, as we know, Reading Rainbow and the heavily criticized Hooray for Reading! only had this effect on the weekday television-watching audience. Getting us to watch something about reading on the weekends required that little extra oomph.
Anyway, Bob Keeshan introduced the story to be presented, while holding a copy of the paperback book. After the episode, Keeshan would return and present the CBS Storybreak version of the Read More About It interstitials/Public Service Announcements that aired in primetime television around the same time. A partnership of CBS and the Library of Congress, Keeshan would recommend a few titles related to the topic of that weekend’s story, before informing viewers that their local libraries and bookstores would be able to help them “read more about it,” before that rocking theme song takes us into the outro of the episode.
The series ran until January 28, 1989, left the network by 1990, before returning as reruns in 1993, with new wraparound segments hosted by Malcolm-Jamal Warner to compliment the existing stories aired during the original three seasons. These reruns aired from September 18, 1993 until August 19, 1995, and featured open captioning courtesy of National Captioning Institute for the Hearing Impaired. This allowed not only those with hearing difficulties view the program and be able to follow along, but also for those without hearing impairments to follow along as part of the show’s pro-reading message. The reruns with the Warner wraparound segments returned in 1998, airing from January until September of that year on CBS.
Selected episodes of the series were released as Video Storybreak by Playhouse Video (20th Century Fox’s children’s and family imprint) in 1992, with several more released by Fox Kids Video in 1998.
I definitely don’t remember watching the original series as it aired, but I do remember when THE reruns with Malcolm-Jamal Warner aired in the 1990s. Even more specifically, I remember watching Chocolate Fever, and then reading it in elementary school in (I think) sixth grade. I had watched the cartoon at some point before then, so I remember relating the visual imagery of the book to what I had seen in the cartoon. And as for that theme song, it is one time has never dulled. Even the visuals are sweeping and dramatic!
These days, the episodes have found their home in archives of YouTube Land, in their full form and with the original Bob Keeshan wraparound segments. Casual glances at the episodes show the quality to be representative of typical Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the time. This animation style varies in how well it holds up, but there is a true nostalgia value in all of it, even in the incredible but dated (by today’s standards) introduction and theme song.
There’s even a really good, very complete playlist of the episodes on YouTube, awaiting your Nostalgic Saturday Morning consumption!
And Now, You!
Did you ever engage in a CBS Storybreak? What episodes and host do you remember the best? And did you ever actually “read more about it,” or read the depicted book? I’d ask you if you ever “Book It, bro,” but you probably did, because you love books, pins, star stickers, and pizza.
And you also like rockin’ theme songs and sweeping visuals accompanying them!
Around this time, CBS wasn’t the only network giving kids contemporary kid lit titles adapted into a cartoon. Over on ABC, they were doing something similar, and that will be a story…for a different time!
Have a great day!