I first spotted a couple of Baha’i prayer books for babies and toddlers a few years ago. Their cardboard pages (which make them commonly known as “board books”) are perfect for hands still learning how to turn pages. I wasn’t a mother at the time, but I was eager to purchase them for babies I knew because it was so exciting to see the Baha’i Writings in a format accessible for the very young. Mothers often pray to the babies in their wombs, and sing them prayers from their earliest hours, so it was wonderful to see books safe and strong for really little hands to hold. The first board books I came across were illustrated by Elaheh Bos and I’m really excited that she’s been making more! A Tiny Seed, Rose of Love, I am a Child, Like Unto a Pearl, This Fresh Plant and With Loving Kindness are six newly available board books of prayers and devotions for young children published by Bellwood Press. Three are exquisitely illustrated with plasticine art and three feature color pencil illustrations. Elaheh agreed to tell us a little bit about them and I’m so glad she did. Here’s what she shared:
Baha’i Blog: Could you please tell us about these new prayer books?
These books are part of the “Tender Years Series” aimed at children ages 0-3 and as such offer a first introduction to the Writings. Young children have an amazing capacity to learn and memorize new words. They are growing at an amazing pace and are constantly learning through touch, sound, experimentation, and repetition. Creating these books which focus on a small selection of beautiful words was a way to craft books that are age appropriate and allows young children to feel included in the spiritual practices of the family by having their own books.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to create these books?
My inspiration process is not straightforward. It is like a bucket that gets filled drop by drop over the course of months or years until it has no choice but to spill over into something. For these books, the first drop came when the Baha’i Publishing Trust initiated a Skype call with different authors and illustrators a while back. One of the topics that was brought up was the need for books aimed at very young children. I realized that unfortunately I had often assumed that the Writings were too challenging for children under a certain age and that the only introduction available was through shorter prayers. The more I challenged my own presumptions and started looking at the Writings again through a different lens, the more I could appreciate the idea of sharing the beauty and imagery of specific selections in a way that worked with the needs of young babies and toddlers.
I love board books and the simple step-by-step, word-by-word structure they offer. We often use them to teach our babies first words and concepts. There are so many books about the alphabet, animals, sounds, seasons, and colours… so while we are helping them learn, why not aim to elevate these words and concepts?
Baha’i Blog: What was the process like to illustrate the books?
The first step for me is always narrowing down and deciding on the selection of Writings that each book is going to focus on. Once that step is done, I decide on the medium for that specific series. I have always enjoyed trying out different mediums and mixing them at times too, so the possibilities are always very wide at the start of each project.
The first thing I realized when I decided to use plasticine is that it doesn’t come in a large range of colours like certain mediums. I spend many evenings (and enlisted my daughters to help) just mixing colors. I would fill huge plastic containers with different shades or greens, varieties of oranges, hues of blues and so on…
Plasticine is so much fun! I had always wanted to explore plasticine as an illustration medium but never had the right project to match the energy and boldness of what plasticine offers. There is an organic and imperfect quality to plasticine which I love. The first set of books gave me a chance to do something new and create my own way of using plasticine.
I love things that come in little collections. When I submitted the idea for this series, the goal was always to have each set done in a different medium, so the next three books were done with color pencil, offering a different and slightly milder color palette.
While I had more options of colors with color pencils, I still wanted to add details and the semblance of texture, so for some images, I spent hours adding small lines or details to the backgrounds.
Deciding on the illustrations is the most challenging part because most of the Writings talk about concepts that we cannot draw, so I focus on imagery that leaves room for association or opens the way for a future conversation between parent and child. At times I may try to pull out an emotion that can be somehow linked to the Writing or will focus on a specific word rather than the entire sentence.
I always set aside a couple of weeks and always plan to do the illustrations of the three books at the same time. This helps me keep the style and consistency for each series.
The last step of the process happens behind the computer. This is where I clean up the images digitally and add the text to each image. Sometimes it means removing shadows, trying to brighten the color from scanning the images, fixing eyes that were not aligned, or just bringing everything together.
Baha’i Blog: What did you learn in the process of making these books?
This is such an important question, and I am always learning and growing, not only as an artist, but as a human being. In answering this question, I tried to think of a few virtues and reminders that showed up along the way.
Joy: I was reminded of the beauty of the Writings while I was working on these books. I got to appreciate these beautiful bites of joy that really spoke to me and made me feel hopeful and happy.
Humility: The more I listen to and learn from those who have so often not been given a voice due to injustice and racism, the more I realize that the only way to change our ways is through humility and an openness to listen and learn. That not only do I need to constantly strive to be a better human being, but also to do better as an author and artist.
Purpose: Something else that gets reaffirmed with each project I work on is the importance for each of us to do our part. For us all to share whatever gifts we have been given and to value these gifts. For me, that also means becoming an advocate for the arts and the rights of artists.
Gratitude: The last thing I will share is how much I loved making these books and I hope they make children as happy as I felt grateful while working on them.
Baha’i Blog: What else are you currently working on?
I am always shuffling a few projects at a time, and while I don’t have a specific book to share right now, here are a few things that have come to fruition:
I recently became a certified child behavior consultant and that has given me an additional window into the development of children and how to help their growth through my work.
We started a website called bahaibooksforchildren where all Baha’i children’s books are listed in a single place with descriptions and links. We also have a shop on that site where we sell some of our books and other items.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Elaheh! It’s been a joy to hear about the process of putting these books together.
You can purchase the Tender Years board books from Amazon here:
1. A Tiny Seed
2. Rose of Love
3. I am a Child