Chain Reaction

On Friday nights at my house, we tuck in with a good book, a great TV show, and a roaring fire in the fireplace. And on one particular Friday night, I looked at my 5 and 8-year-old and said, “let’s watch Reading Rainbow. We could use a little LeVar right about now. Am I right or am I right?”

(If somehow, this is the first time you are hearing LeVar’s name, thank goodness you are here! LeVar Burton hosted TV show Reading Rainbow. Your life will be brighter from this moment forward. You are welcome.)

My 8-year-old looked at me, opened his mouth, and that’s when it happened: a literary sacrilege. “I’m too old for that,” he said. GASP!

“What are those blasphemous words leaving your lips? There is no such thing,” I said. “Exhibit A: Neil deGrasse Tyson. Exhibit B: Your very own Mother.”

I aimed that silver remote at the AppleTV and hit play. And a funny thing happened next. Silence. Our eyes were glued to the screen. Intellects engaged, we were going wherever LeVar was taking us: all part of a massive CHAIN REACTION. NO, really that’s what the episode was all about, chain reactions. LeVar pointed out ‘chain reactions’ as a form of storytelling. He used one of our favorite books, IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, as an example for its fun circular writing. Then LeVar introduced us to people who build huge domino set-ups and finally he took us behind the scenes at a bowling alley.

Minds BLOWN. Confession: We had no idea huge domino builds were a thing. Obsession followed.

THE next day… we turned to YouTube to (unknowingly) lose our ever-loving minds watching Hevesh5 create and topple insane dom builds. Then, searching through the house, we started gathering random stuff to line up and knock down. We constructed mechanisms to set off the dominoes and made machines to change the falling dominoes’ direction. We took out all of our old favorite toys (Thomas the tank engine train track, Magnatiles, wooden planks, two boxes of dominoes, stuff from the recycling bin, whatever we could get our hands on.)

As we watched more domino builders, we realized something cool. What these domino artists are really doing . . .  is telling stories. Like all great stories, these have escalating tension. Will the dominoes fall the way they planned? Will something unexpected happen? Will the builders accidentally set them off before they are ready? The stakes are high!

And sometimes the designs themselves tell stories. Like a Harry Potter domino build. The designers had to parcel out the major plot points of the book, design domino layouts that highlighted those plot points. What a great way to study books and writing and storytelling! All of that… got us thinking about Harry Potter and so we read the book, then we watched the movie.

Our only break in that whole adventure? A trip to the Bowling Alley! It was a blast. And then the following Friday when I asked the kids what we should watch. The 8-year-old decided.

“LeVar!” he shouted.  That’s my boy.


Our Takeaways!

  • This is a STEAM Palooza – whether you are a parent, educator, librarian, or all three. Science, technology, engineering, art, and Math.
  • Watch Reading Rainbow. Pro Tip, you can find the DVDs at the library and check them out for free! Check out LeVar Burton’s current web site.
  • Check out all of the “If you give…” books by Laura Numeroff! IF YOU GIVE A MOOSE A MUFFIN remains our favorite!
  • Don’t forget, you don’t have to take LeVar’s word for it! ; ) You can find out for yourself (play with dominoes, go bowling)
  • Talk about storytelling. It’s everywhere.
  • Check out Lily Hevesh’s YouTube Channel Hevesh5
  • And when you find yourself in the middle of a chain reaction like (LeVar -> dominoes -> bowling -> reading -> movie…. Enjoy letting the dominoes fall where they may.

Classroom Challenge:

Can your students identify the major plot points from their favorite book and use them to design a cool domino layout? If the answer is yes, don’t keep that sheer genius a secret, we want to see what they come up with. Tweet me @AnnaRedding or comment below or shout it from the mountain tops.



P.S. If by some miracle, LeVar Burton is reading this, we love you, LeVar. That goes for you, too, Neil deGrasse Tyson!


2 Responses to “Chain Reaction”

  1. Lisa Rose

    I never thought about stories having a chain reaction like a dominoes—so true! Thank you for that new point of view. I love when I can see a favorite story like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie in a whole new way. : )