Mac Barnett on Why a good book is secret door : #TEDTalks every book blogger should watch

I track down TED Talks that would be of special interest to the book blogging community ... and they become a jumping board for personal musings, including yours!

We all have our favourite children's book or books. Think about why you loved it so much.

In this talk entitled Why a Good Book is a Secret Door, children's book author Mac Barnett talks about how books can awaken a sense of unabashed wonder in our kids.

Note: This talk is about 16 minutes. 

Mac Barnett at approx 0:11: My job is that I lie to children, but they're honest lies.

An honest lie? White lie? Ok, I'll hear him out.

MB at approx. 4:26: It's what Coleridge called the willing suspension of disbelief or poetic faith, for those moments where a story, no matter how strange, has some semblance of the truth, and then you're able to believe it. It's not just kids who can get there. Adults can too, and we get there when we read.

[..] We know these characters aren't real, but we have real feelings about them, and we're able to do that. We know these characters aren't real, and yet we also know that they are.

Barnett gave some very cool examples of children buying into "honest lies" with such utter trust and a lovely sense of whimsy. So I'm totally buying into his "honest lie" idea. Reading is all about honest lies.

I just wish that I savoured my first readings of some children's books when it was actually happening ... I guess you never think about it when it's actually happening. But the magic of a first read can never really be relived, in my opinion.

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart (photo from here.)
Mammoth Chunks
Photo from here.

MB at approx. 8:05:  So we have The Echo Park Time Travel Mart. That's our motto: "Whenever you are, we're already then."
[..] Mammoth Chunks. These things weigh, like, seven pounds each. Barbarian repellent. It's full of salad and potpourri — things that barbarians hate. Dead languages. (Laughter) Leeches, nature's tiny doctors. And Viking Odorant, which comes in lots of great scents: toenails, sweat and rotten vegetables, pyre ash.

Now I am just dying to go visit Time Travel Mart! Anybody here from or near California? The store seems to have become quite popular because there is now a second location listed on the website.

Hearing about the witty spinoffs from books really excites me! I love how kids can let their imaginations run wild with books and then actually see a place like Time Travel Mart bring their craziest ideas to life. After finishing off this video, go and visit the website and have a good laugh. Tell me some of your favourite products!

Dead Languages
Photo from here.
MB at approx. 10:54: There's a term called metafiction, and that's just stories about stories [..] It's when an actor will turn to the audience and say, "I am an actor, these are just rafters." And even that supposedly honest moment, I would argue, is in service of the lie [..] For me, I kind of prefer the opposite. [..] I want fiction to escape and come into the real world. I want a book to be a secret door that opens and lets the stories out into reality.

I'm getting all sorts of weird Pandora's box imagery in my head with Barnett's refuting metafiction! Sounds crazy ... but fun!

MB at approx. 10:54: And so I try to do this in my books. And here's just one example. This is the first book that I ever made. It's called "Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem."

Basically Barnett allows his book to extend to real life by letting kids write in and call their blue whales. It sort of reminds me of how we all hang on to the "reality" of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy in our childhoods.

Thank goodness for authors of children's books! I'll relish the thought that ours kids can hang on to their innocence, their sense of wonder, and jog their creative minds ... with the mighty book!

What are your takeaways from this talk?

Mac Barnett's website
Time Travel Mart
Billy Twitter and His Blue Whale Problem (affiliate link)

(I am not affiliated in any way with TED Talks. Photo for header: unsplash, TED logo from

No comments

Post a Comment

© guiltless readingMaira Gall