Books for Children
by ALISON GROVER KHOURY
Anticipating the centenary of the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í presses have published a number of new books for children and youth about His life, service and example. Included here are new books about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that have come out this year, as well as some others readers may wish to consider.
The Kind Servant: A joyful poem about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was written by Celeste Finn and illustrated by Sophie Rutstein Ansari. This is a lovely book — one of my favorites this year. A gentle poem teaches young children about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s kindness, and His encouragement to all He met to be happy and generous.
“Be kind to everyone,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá smiled and said.
He was loving and caring to help happiness spread!
This refrain is sprinkled between verses describing how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went about doing just that everywhere He went.
Both the pages and the illustrations are soft pastels in watercolor — fun squiggles and dots of color accompany simple but charming pen and ink drawings. Photos of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are featured throughout and serve to make ‘Abdu’l-Bahá a real Presence, someone to Whom young readers can easily relate.
The book is self-published by the author’s imprint Shining Lamp Press. Happily, the production quality is very good. The book is a hard cover, no dust jacket — which is not needed, especially on a book for young readers. A second book about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called Make of Me a Shining Lamp is scheduled to appear in the fall of 2021.
Written by Jacqueline Mehrabi and illustrated by Jaci Ayorinde, The Sweetness of His Love: Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was published this year by Bellwood Press, the children’s book imprint of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’í Publishing Trust of the United States. This book is a glossy hardcover without a dust jacket. Jacqueline Mehrabi has written and published a number of high quality books for children and young adults over the years.
This new book contains thirty-eight short stories about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and those in His circles. The accompanying illustrations are beautiful. I was not familiar with some of the stories, and those that are well known offer fresh perspectives on stories children may have heard before. There are some that end abruptly or appear unfinished, so adults may wish to read through in advance to have more complete details for younger readers. While it seems that the stories are written with middle elementary school readers in mind, some of the stories don’t include enough detail or clear purpose or endings for that age group and may be better for older children.
Published by Tender Branches Press, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Loving All the World: Stories to Inspire is also a collection of stories about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for young readers. This book was published very recently, in early November. At the time of writing, I have been able to see a final manuscript in PDF format, generously shared by the editorial group responsible for the book at Tender Branches Press. Some of this same group worked tirelessly for many years on the Central Figures’ books about The Báb and Bahá’u’lláh that the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States published with the Bahá’í National Education Committee for the Core Curriculum education program.
Loving All The World features twenty-seven moving and inspiring stories about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, spanning His life and ministry. A few are newly-available in English, but many will be familiar. Also included are stories that have been expanded beyond the typical narrative we might be familiar with. This creates the kind of broader context that enables readers to gain a better understanding of the significance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s actions, as well as the reactions of those blessed to have been in His Presence. We witness His strong, loving, unerring example of we should treat one other: with genuine love, respect, acceptance, and joy. Key Bahá’í teachings, such as of the oneness of humanity, the equality of women and men, the elimination of economic inequality, are brought clearly into focus through accounts of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words and deeds.
The book features numerous authors, most of whom have written for children before. The accompanying illustrations by many excellent artists, in a variety of styles and mediums, accompany the stories. Some of the artists have had long and successful careers as illustrators and have collaborated on other books for children. Others are be first-time children’s illustrators. But in both the writing and the illustration, the diversity of experience works to the book’s advantage, keeping the book fresh and distinctive in every way. Loving All The World is a most welcome addition to books published during this centenary year and to the current cannon of excellent Bahá’í children’s books.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá Loves Children: Nine Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá With Children — written by Alhan Rahimi, this book includes pretty illustrations by Kseniia Pavska. Most of the stories offered are more about the children featured than they are about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. But His example and loving encouragement of children and youth is everywhere clearly portrayed. The book opens with a particularly endearing photo of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walking away from the camera and up a street. In the foreground, three little children are happily eating sweets which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has just given them. We so often hear that, wherever He went, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave candies, sweets, cakes, and coins to children. How touching to have photographic documentation of the outcome of one such encounter. Children will especially enjoy the stories about Shoghi Effendi and the one about Mary Maxwell as a toddler. This sweet collection is geared towards younger children and would be a special book to share both at the time of the commemoration of the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing and in children’s classes and at bedtime. Alhan Rahimi’s consistently fine and creative storytelling continues to enrich the Bahá’í children’s book offerings.
Alvin The Green Acre Water Boy by Ronald Tomanio was published by George Ronald. It is historical fiction at its best. Alvin Staples was a real person. He was a water boy at Green Acre at the time ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited Green Acre in 1912, who was deeply affected by His presence. In later years, Alvin frequently shared his stories of being Green Acre’s water boy with Bahá’ís who met him, including with Ron’s own mother, Dr. Mary Tomanio. Ron conveyed to me that the rest of the book is entirely a creation of his own imagination — and it is utterly charming. The wooden water ladle is Alvin’s companion, chatty truth-teller, moral compass, and guide. His easy, flowing narrative writing is perfect for this tale. This book is not to be missed.
There are a number of other books that have been published in the last several years that I was happy to be able to read as well.
The Change Maker series is one of the most outstanding projects from Bellwood Press in the last several years. Similar to the Penguin Random House Who Is/ Who Was biography series, the Change Maker series now includes four titles. The books are engagingly written, carefully researched, and include a few black and white illustrations every few pages. Consisting of chapter books designed for ages 8-12, this series introduces readers to four extraordinary people: Robert Sengstacke Abbot, Dizzy Gillespie, Richard St. Barbe Baker, and Hazel Scott. All made significant contributions in a range of fields, from music to science, and all were Bahá’ís. Three of the four books are written by Susan Engle and illustrated by Luthando Mazibuko. Paul Hanley has written Richard St. Barbe Baker: Child of the Trees and the illustrator is Elizabeth Kenn. This series is a must-read. I look forward to more books in the series.
Who Makes Knees for Bees? is written by film producer and children’s author Anne Gordon Perry. Perry has written several children’s books. Who Makes Knees for Bees? Is her latest and features her delightfully silly sense of humor. In this book, she has written and published a collection of laugh-out-loud rhyming questions introducing children to the wonders of nature and God’s creation (who does make knees for bees?). A second section of the book takes an even funnier turn as readers are invited to contemplate important questions like “who makes pajamas for lamas?” Illustrations are by Blair Walker and Dallas Zapper.
Ushkat’s Mushum Dies is written by Sahar Sabati and illustrated by Alie Gagnon-Dahl. It is belongs to the Aspects of Bahá’í Personal and Community Life for Children series. Other books include: Nuala Says Her Prayers and Star and Her Family Host A Feast. She has also written and published a middle grade series called The Spirit Within. Ushkat’s Mushum Dies follows a young girl and her very pregnant mother as they grieve the passing of their beloved father and grandfather. While it is a bit lengthy for a book geared to younger readers, it is thoughtfully written, and is an serves as an excellent introduction for children to the journey of the soul. The illustrations are beautiful and were created by the author’s friend at age 12 — an auspicious beginning for an artist.
I Love My Name and Together Even When We’re Apart both by Linda Ahdieh Grant and illustrated by Anna Myers, were published in the last two years. I Love My Name, by Bellwood Press, is the story of a Bahá’í second grader named Tahirih, who overhears her friends making fun of her name. She is devastated, but is also proud to be named after Tahirih, a Letter of the Living, a brilliant, bold, strong, profoundly spiritual poet who was among the first to recognize The Báb. Tahirih turns to teacher for help with her painful experience, and together they visit the school library to find a book about Tahirih’s life. Tahirih is able to reclaim her power and her love for her name as she learns more about the Tahirih she is named for. Eventually, she is able to stand up for herself and for her name. The illustrations are lush and beautiful.
Together Even When We’re Apart is a pandemic story narrated by a sweet little boy whose family finds ways to be of service to the friends and neighbors in their apartment building while everyone is staying indoors and socially distant. There are devotional gatherings for encouragement and spiritual sustenance, food sharing, check-in phone calls, Nineteen Day Feasts and much more. These activities may be familiar to many children who tried to be of service during the pandemic.
Heroes of the Dawn Breakers by Ivan Lloyd is a gorgeous book with lush illustrations by the author. Ivan Lloyd is a professional artist, set designer, and illustrator who has lived and worked all over the world. He has published several other books about early believers, including Tahirih and Badi. Heroes is a collection of one-page stories from The Dawn-Breakers about the early history of the Faith. Each page includes illustrations, calligraphy or maps, all of which illumine this stunning book. This book is an excellent companion for middle grade and junior youth readers, but adults will not want to miss out.
We are One is the latest publication by Melissa Lopez Charepoo. She has published a number of lovely books for very young readers, and We Are One is an excellent addition to her work. Illustrations accompany familiar rendering of Bahá’í verses in song, including “we are the drops of one ocean, we are the flowers of one meadow, we are lions of one thicket.” The refrain “We are one humanity” appears every few pages, with happy children celebrating the beauty of diversity and oneness. Resources for those unfamiliar with the Bahá’í Faith are included, making this book accessible to anyone.
The Chosen Path: Tahirih of Persia and Her Search for God by Hussein Ahdieh & Hillary Chapman was published in 2020. Written as an accessible biography for middle grade and junior youth, this book is an excellent read. Tahirih is always an inspiring example to turn to and this fresh telling designed for today’s youth will be enjoyed by many.