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This Portland Preschool Teacher Is Spending Quarantine Reading Classic Children’s Books on YouTube—While Sitting in a Canoe

Of course, we couldn’t interview him and not have him read us a story.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Five days a week, Andrew Barton hauls a canoe outdoors, gets inside, and never paddles a single stroke.

Granted, there would be no point in trying to get his vessel to budge an inch, since it's in his backyard in Milwaukie. But while Barton may not be physically traveling anywhere, he is still taking homebound kids on journeys to distant places, both real and imagined.

Barton, namesake of the YouTube channel "Teacher Andrew Reads in a Canoe," originally gained a reputation for storytelling working at Hands On Art & Play preschool in Southeast Portland. His soothing pace and animated vocals—he growls, squawks or even imitates an entire marching band when the script calls for it—have earned him invitations to lead story times at local farmers markets.

So when the COVID-19 outbreak rendered in-person gatherings forbidden, Barton did what many have done to keep life moving: record and post videos online. In his case, that means opening a book and narrating its plot while squatting in a landlocked canoe.

"Once school shuttered on March 13," says Barton, "I thought it would be nice to do something that would help my students remain connected, even if that was just watching me looking silly and reading stories sitting in a canoe."

The result is something like a throwback to child-friendly PBS programming of a slower, simpler time. Teacher Andrew dons an array of visually engaging accessories—from berets to broad-brimmed sun hats—and turns the pages, tilting the illustrations toward the camera. He does so while surrounded by a domesticated version of Snow White's forest of happy animals: seven chickens, five rabbits, a dog named Dave and a cat named Whiskey.

Barton says he's received a slew of thank-you emails, videos and, in one case, a drawing of him reading in a canoe from a 5-year-old named Margaret.

WW caught up with Barton and asked him about his favorite children's book, why he reads from a stationary canoe, and what he's doing to stay sane during lockdown—and, of course, we couldn't let him go without having him read us a story.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.