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Petaluma realtor gains following for nightly book readings

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PLANNING TO WATCH?

What: Bedtime Stories with Barton

When: Nightly at 7 p.m.

Where: Facebook (On Barton Smith’s page)

Contact: Barton@RealEstateStars.com

An image of a back-porch fireplace, ablaze with warm fluttering light, appears on the Facebook page of Petaluma realtor Barton Smith, with the prominently displayed cover of a book, Sara Pennypacker’s “Pierre In Love,” standing in the foreground.

“Tonight we’re kickin’ it with a fire in backyard,” says the deep, clear voice of Smith. “It just felt right. We got done with some chores, and thought we could use a bit of a break, sitting here in the yard.”

The image adjusts slightly to focus a bit more tightly on the soft blue picture book, with a cover image of a rat blowing a kiss to a rabbit.

“There’s our book for tonight,” states Smith. “The story of a ballerina and a fisherman, falling in love.” After a pause, he says, “Lucas! Hi, bud! Thank so much for being with us tonight! C.C. and Brody! Hola! And Annamaria’s there! Welcome everybody.” Another quick pause, then, “Well, I think it’s about time we got started.”

This is how last Saturday night’s edition of “Bedtime Stories with Barton” begins, streaming nightly on Smith’s Facebook page since March 28. Most evenings, viewers can see Barton himself seated in a chair inside his house, reading aloud from a different book, selected from a stack of favorites he keeps right there by the chair. But tonight, with the change of location, the primary emphasis is the book itself, with Smith’s voice reading – and occasionally commenting with a string of explanatory observations – and the bright, comforting flames flapping in the iron fireplace just beyond the author’s printed words and the delightful illustrations by Petra Mathers.

Smith, the owner and founder of Barton Smith Real Estate, has experience using that voice to bring to life a story. As the host of KPCA radio’s “The Greater Good with Barton Smith,” which aired Mondays at 3:30 until the station was forced to suspend live programming until after the quarantine ends, Smith has a voice that is rich with assurance and ease.

The perfect voice for reading a story at bedtime.

Since he launched the literary “show” early in the shelter-in-place, he’s read a different book every night at 7 p.m. Counting backwards from “Pierre in Love, Smith has so far read “Bedtime!” by Ruth Freeman Swain, illustrated by Kat Bowman Smith, Rick Walton’s “Bunnies on the Go!” with illustrations by Paige Miglio and “Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type,” by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Other selections include “Just a Minute,” by Yuyi Morales, “The Cat’s Vacation,” by Irene Schoch, “The Mousery,” by Charlotte Pomerantz, with illustrations by Kurt Cyrus, and the one that started it all, “Chato’s Kitchen,” written by Gary Soto, and illustrated by Guevara.

“It’s been really fun, and gives me something to look forward to every day, when things are so different for all of us,” Smith explains. As a realtor, he’s accustomed to working outside, showing houses to prospective clients, when not doing paperwork as the designated office he keeps at Keller Street CoWork, now closed due to the sheltering orders.

Smith, who has two teenagers, says the inspiration for the nightly story time was a pair of kids who live across the street from his home.

“Their parents often bring the kids over and drop them off and we all hang out and bake, or do art or watch movies or something along those lines,” he says. “During this C-19 shutdown, we haven’t been able to see the kids except from across the street. We were out there one afternoon, in our front yard and they were across the street in their own front yard, having a little neighborhood dance party, and I just yelled, ‘Want to hear a bedtime story tonight?’ And they yelled, ‘Yeah!’ So we started reading bedtime stories to them, and that’s the whole initiation of how it happened.”

PLANNING TO WATCH?

What: Bedtime Stories with Barton

When: Nightly at 7 p.m.

Where: Facebook (On Barton Smith’s page)

Contact: Barton@RealEstateStars.com

Initially, Smith read the stories on Facetime, but when he was asked to do another reading event for his church, using the Facebook Live platform, he decided to start doing the nightly stories for a wider audience.

“Then, when people started dropping in,” he says, “I thought, ‘This makes me feel good. It’s one of the moments during the Shelter-in-Place that I feel excited and inspired about,’ so I decided to just keep going.”

Smith plans to continue the readings as a nightly event for the remainder of the shelter-in-place

“Then, when it’s over, I plan on keeping it going,” he allows. “Maybe I’ll do three days a week instead of every day. And maybe on the nights off, I’ll encourage people to read a story themselves for whoever they are with.”

Though he’s begun making a list of books people suggest, Smith says he’s not worried about running out of books from his household’s own collection.

“My girls, when they were younger, they had a bright red IKEA bookshelf that must have been four feet wide, and six feet tall, just filled with books,” he says. “We have five or six teachers in the family, so reading has always been a big thing for us.” Though he’s since given away a small handful of books from that original treasure trove, there are still plenty left to work through.

So far, Smith has shown a fondness for books with adventurous animals learning lessons - for the record, he does a first-rate cat’s meow and his motor-like feline purr is second-to-none – and also enjoys books by Latino authors.

As much as he enjoys doing the readings, for his own obvious pleasure in performing and bringing the various characters to life, Smith says he never forgets the kids he started reading these stories from to begin with. What began with two children across the street, is now being done for youngsters and their parents all over the country.

Smith adds that he would even welcome invitations to read stories for schools or other institutions, anyone doing remote access learning.

“I’d be happy to read for classrooms or youth or senior organizations,” he says.

“Until we’re released from shelter-in-place, I could connect with the teachers, caregivers, others via Zoom or other methods.”

A month ago, Smith thought of himself as a realtor and a radio host. Now he’s permanently added “reader of stories” to that list.

“One of my listeners, who turns out to be a client, sent over this heartwarming picture of her two boys, sitting in front of an iPhone, on the end of their bed, with bowls of ice cream, listening to me tell a story,” Smith says. “I saw that picture and said, ‘Oh, I am in! I am so in. This is it, and I’m going to keep doing this as long as I can.’”

(Contact David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)

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