Three months after Americans began sheltering in place, author Mac Barnett gets up nearly every day and takes to social media to share something new with readers. More than simply an author reading, Barnett’s efforts now form a catalog of nearly 50 episodes in what is something more akin to a television show, with followers in 50 countries and all seven continents.
“I was reading about the school closings beginning across the U.S., and started thinking of all the kids who’d lost their daily routines, their connection to their friends,” Barnett said. “So many of the most important structures in kids’ lives vanished overnight.”
Mac’s Book Club Show, which Barnett posts to Instagram, features interactive readings that often include new drawings, sound effects, different voice characterizations, and more. Barnett reads from his own books as well as those of other authors, including Donald Crews, John Burningham, and Taro Gomi. In addition to the readings, each Saturday he creates a live cartoon with illustrator Shawn Harris, who is his childhood best friend. As audiences have grown, Barnett and Harris have used the show to benefit booksellers. Harris designed a “Mac’s Book Club Show” hat, which is sold on Barnett’s website and has raised $25,000 for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.
Barnett considers his effort a small way to give back to children whose decision to stay home is of particular importance for him. “I’m Type 1 diabetic, part of the vulnerable population everyone is staying at home to protect,” Barnett said. “I hope I’ve provided some structure and joy for kids each day. I’m profoundly grateful for the sacrifice that people, but especially children, are making right now on behalf of the larger community.”
The size of the show’s audience has been a surprise for the author; three regular viewers even watch from Antarctica. As he reflects on why the show has reached so many, Barnett said he believes it is a part of a deep need to find common ground with one another through stories. “Our sense of connection to others has been frayed during shelter-in-place. Gathering together to listen to stories is one of the most human things we can do—it’s one of the first ways we formed communities,” Barnett said.
That connection drives the book club format of the show, he explained. “It’s really important to me that this is a book club, so that kids feel connected not only to me, on their screen, but to the other kids around the world who are staying at home and watching the show.”
During such challenging times, Barnett said his reason for continuing the book club week after week is because it is such a natural fit for who he is. “Sometimes I imagine how I’d get by in a post-apocalyptic dystopia,” he said. “I for sure would not be joining the raiding party and stealing a biker gang’s gasoline. I would be the one telling stories to kids whose parents were in the raiding party.”