You know the song, right? If not– I am here to help you! I’s the B’y, here performed by Great Big Sea! This is the Spriggan’s favourite “stompy song” for doing his funny stomping in a circle dance. He’s always loved music– I’m not sure I’ve met a baby who doesn’t love music? He would calm down immediately for “Au Clair de la lune,” and the first song to make him giggle and gurgle was “I’s the B’y.” He’s a child with very diverse tastes. I won’t say I felt pride that he showed such a marked taste for Canadian music– but I will cheerfully confess that I’m insufferably smug about it, and was beyond thrilled when one of my favourite Canadian artists, Lauren Soloy (remember her?), was illustrating this wonderful song: I’s the B’y, friends, out now! Isn’t the cover fabulous? Make sure to check under the dust jacket, though…
What, are you sure you want me to spoil the surprise? Would it be more fun…? No, you insist? Oh all right.
There! I love the puffins, too. The whole book is like that: Joy, a bit of Canadian education, a lot of fun for everyone. The book, in itself, is the kind you either hold in front of a class or open for the kids in front of you in the house, flipping while singing– and the kids in the class will probably call to you to “wait– I want to see that picture, is that a dog?!?” and your littlest Spriggan who’s just learning his words will rush to point and say “wow-WOW!” at every Newfoundland dog picture (ok, yes, I liked the “dog-dog”, too). Your older Changeling will examine everything and ask about the boats and “are there really puffins?” You, yourself, will smile at the clothes hanging out to dry (so funny they don’t do that here), and quietly enjoy that the cast is diverse and inclusive (humans and MerB’ys of all kinds, and let’s not forget the Newfoundland critters, too) in a way that just didn’t used to happen. Yay for illustrators like Lauren Soloy, Qin Leng, Isabelle Arsenault, and so many others who just make these things happen!
There’s sheet music and awesome backmatter in the form of a letter from Lauren directly addressing the reader, in exactly the right voice for my Changeling, which means it was also enjoyable for me, the adult in the room, but the kids are the focus here. Spot on, I say.
But what’s the real star? Why does this book shine and glow and feel so right for me, and is it just my incredible nostalgia and longing for a world that feels like that? A space that’s not loud and angry, but instead loud with laughter and music and cawing birds and crashing waves? I’ll own up and say that’s probably a chunk of it, but if that’s so, then Lauren Soloy’s version of this song was simply perfect for hitting that spot, and I think what did it is the rough joy in it. I don’t mean rough as in abrasive.
“I’s the B’y” the song is one that gets a room together and leaves no one out. It doesn’t say “it’s just a joke, can’t you take a joke?” It’s a song that makes space for everyone to sing together, kids and adults of all stripes, in the same way that when you were a kid in daycare everyone would sing in circle time together: “The Wheels on the Bus” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” (Except that, speaking for myself, “I’s the B’y” is way more fun to sing.)
And Lauren’s art shows this communal feel: everyone in it together, everyone chatting and eating and dancing, and no one sidelined for being weird. I think a good chunk of it is the delight in the oddity. Wheels on buses do have a tendency to go round and round, but if you’re bellowing out “I don’t want your maggoty fish,” there’s a strong likelihood that you’re aware you’re not singing something that would make sense to folks over in Toronto, for example. So you lean into it. You embrace that you’re a bit odd to folks from away. But that’s ok, because we have fun singing!
And Lauren brought that to us.
I’m very grateful for that right now, and I think that maybe a lot of us could use this warmth and joy and a tang of humour that’s not clear-cut lines and polish, but cheerfully rubs along in a way that invites you in, and doesn’t leave anyone out.
Wait, I heard another request– my favourite spread? Oh, that’s a tough one. It really is. But, even though this isn’t a puffinny spread, I think it probably wins… Newf in the bottom right, the dancing and fiddling codfish, and the laundry? Perfection. Thanks for asking! (My picture shows a teensy bit of my assistant, Castor, right down on the bottom left.)
Here’s a link to purchase from my local shop, I’s the B’y! But you should by from yours.