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“Naively I thought I could publish part time and continue teaching!” But establishing Rainbow Reading was a major undertaking which is now celebrating its 21 year anniversary this month. Meryl-Lynn says her local market is 87 percent of all New Zealand schools who have used or are using her programmes.
“We started with just six books and audiotapes at each of three levels, a Training video and a Teacher’s Manual. As those sold we introduced more titles at those levels and further levels. Today we have 450 titles.” The Rainbow Reading range of books is now also sold via distributors in Australia, UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa and the US, which has its own version called New Heights.
Currently, Rainbow Reading runs seven series, regularly updated and covering a variety of levels. mini RAINBOWS is a series of books with a “magic” audio pen, for pre-schoolers and children in their first years of school, encouraging them to love reading and acquire basic understandings critical to success in learning to read.
“Magic” pens are touch devices – that look like a like a fat marker pen - which, at mini RAINBOWSlevel, read the text fluently and can also read out each word as it is touched.
Key range Rainbow Reading are leveled books which have audio support and activities at 5 - 12 year reading level, with the recent addition of a new silver level at 5 - 5.5 year reading level. Here the magic pen is touched on a coded page (or sticker on the page) and the content is read out as a model and for support. “The technology makes for a nice compromise between regular books and ebooks,” Meryl-Lynn says. As well as being read to, students can record themselves reading on the pen - see a demonstration here.
ToXic books are for the reluctant reader (especially but not exclusively boys) with audio support and activities, with new Totally ToXic titles. Magic pens are again used for these books.
Selections are leveled books with audio support and activities for teenagers and beyond who are reading at 5.5 – 9 year reading level. A cheery graphic of wrapped sweets of different colours marks the different levels and illustrations are photos of typical teens. However it is MP3 files rather than magic pens for this level!
Also on offer: Choose a Path; 32 page books with multiple paths full of adventure and choices with audio support and activities and Speak Out, play readings for groups of mixed ability in hard copy and digital format again with audio and activities.
Writers, illustrators, photographers Rainbow Reading contracts content to over 60 authors, including well known names like Diana Noonan, Jillian Sullivan and David Hill. They also commission freelance illustrators and photographers to illustrate their titles. Sound content is professionally voiced, and technology has moved from audio tape, to CD and now MP3 and magic pen over the years.
“With a niche market it needs fine balancing to keep a reasonable quantity of copies in stock,” Meryl-Lynn says. Originally printed in Nelson, production was later moved to Christchurch printers… until the earthquakes. Now printing, where coded books are required, is done in China.
With an enterprise of this scale, you would expect high staff levels – but here is the surprise: Rainbow Reading is basically two people, Meryl-Lynn and office manager Maria Hutty. Yes, that is all you need to innovate, contract writers and illustrators, create content, manage designers and readers, undertake pre-production and build up a substantial list… while also managing the company and dispatching orders. Sales are in the hands of eight commission reps in this country, and Meryl-Lynn is quick to acknowledge the support of business partner and shareholder Kevin Elliott.
So 21 years on, Meryl-Lynn is clearly as much publisher as pedagogue, with other interests in the area including a role as shareholder and director of Wellington based South Pacific Press.