B by Sarah Kay, illustrated by Sophia Janowitz
Although spoken word artist Sarah Kay‘s TED debut was over a year-and-a-half-ago, her video seems to be in the midst of re-discovery. Via email, listservs, and (dreaded) Facebook, her poetry kept appearing in my daily life this last week, which (of course) prompted me to buy her book (which led me to discover quite a unique publishing endeavor called The Domino Project, brainchild of Seth Godin – yes, the Tribes dude).
“B” is a love poem Kay wrote for her as-yet unmet child: “If I should have a daughter, / instead of Mom, she’s going to call me Point B. / Because that way she knows that no matter what happens, / at least she can always find her way to me.”
The book (it’s always about the book) is filled with magical wonder. Watch the video first and you’ll hear Kay’s expressive voice on every page as you hover over whimsically blended, black-and-white watercolor illustrations that are in such perfect synch with Kay’s words that they could only have been created by someone who knows her deeply, soulfully, eternally. Indeed, Sarah Kay and her illustrator Sophia Janowitz met when they were three months old, and are bound together by a renegade history that began with a time-out they shared at age 4 “for finger-painting all over the white wall of Sophia’s bedroom. It was worth it.”
As Janowitz’s slender brush dots the page, Kay writes, “And I’m going to paint the solar systems / on the backs of her hands, / so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, / ‘Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.'” In all her efforts to protect her, Kay is no Pollyanna-delusioned mother; she knows that “this life will hit you / hard, / in the face” but she also promises her daughter that “the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman / isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows / she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself.” Kay will be waiting with chocolate (even if “there’s a few heartbreaks that chocolate can’t fix”) and rain boots (“[b]ecause rain will wash away everything, if you let it”).
Kay shares her own mama’s wisdom with her daughter-to-be, wrapping her in confidence and renewal (“You will put the wind in win(d)some, / lose some. / You will put the star in starting over and over”). And whenever things might get to be too much, “when they finally hand you heartache, / when they slip war and hatred under your door, / and offer you handouts on street-corners of / cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they / really ought to meet your mother.”
Presented with breathtaking power, “B” is a three-generational celebration of mother/daughter-hood. Perhaps I’m stretching a bit, but surely Kay chooses the letter B for a reason. Here’s the way I see it … the top loop is the mother, the bottom the daughter, and the line is each woman who connects the generations before and after her, not to mention … well, the letter B bears a certain resemblance to body parts that distinctly say ‘woman’ … Be a mother, be a daughter. Be both. Be all.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult