Baha’is see the young as the most precious treasure a community can possess. In them are the promise and guarantee of the future. Yet, in order for this promise to be realised, children need to receive spiritual nourishment, such as can be found in the children’s classes happening all around the world.
A is for Allah-u-Abha: A Children’s Alphabet Book by Andrea Hope
Andrea Hope is no stranger to the Baha’i Blog team! In the past, we interviewed her about her spoken word (you can read all about it here). Now she has taken her skills with words to create a book for young children called A is for Allah-u-Abha. Illustrated by Winda Mulyasari, this bright and bold book will help little ones learn spiritual qualities, Baha’i concepts and history such as equality, the Fast, and the station of Abdu’l-Baha as our exemplar.
Andrea lovingly shared how her picture book of poetry came together, the process involved, and what she’s working on now. Here’s our conversation:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I publish under the name Andrea Hope, which is my first and middle name. “Hope” comes from my great-grandmother, Virginia Hope Jones, who was the first Baha’i in our family and my spiritual guide. Growing up, I was always quite empathetic toward the plight of humanity. At age 11, I found my first solace in writing poetry with lines like, “If the world were full of blind men what a beautiful sight it would be … we’d be forced to feel, not see.” I remember wondering as a junior youth, “Why would God put me on this earth if there was nothing I could do about suffering?” The Baha’i Faith both relieved and empowered me. I have been working for some time to combine my passion for the arts and children’s education with the needs of the Faith. This has included developing children’s programs for holy days, organizing a theatre performance of the children’s book Rooth Sees a Trooth, creating Baha’i Holy Day memory cards, writing a poetry activity book called I Am & I Can, and now, publishing the picture book A is for Allah-u-Abha.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about your book?
A is for Allah-u-Abha is an alphabet book of common terms found in the Baha’i Writings. Each term has a short description in poetic form. What I’d really like the friends to know is that my publications are meant to be used in a learning environment. Of course, concepts like equality, the Qiblih, and service are complex, and it’s my sincere hope that parents and teachers will read the books with their children and explore meaning together.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to create it?
A few years back, former member of the Universal House of Justice Mr. Kiser Barnes mentioned that the Faith is in need of artistic expression unique to its message. I love children, and I am constantly thinking of projects that would suit the needs of the Faith and humanity – materials that an audience wouldn’t otherwise have access to. My husband and I have a one-year-old daughter and a baby on the way, so it’s natural to think of the learning experiences I would like our children to have. I’m also part of a group for Baha’i moms that is an incredible resource both personally and in thinking about resources for children.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a bit about the illustrations?
I work with a wonderful artist from Indonesia. I designed the concept for each illustration and page, and she put her artistic touch on it. As with my previous works, I really wanted to include diverse characters and images that are lively yet respectful. Currently, it’s rare to find a book that includes a blind child or a child who has lost her hair through illness without the book being focused on that child’s experience. I didn’t want to specifically draw attention to children’s differences, but naturally include them in the storyline.
Baha’i Blog: You mentioned that you are constantly working on projects. So, what’s next?
Some ideas I’ve considered are a coloring book version of the alphabet book, a counting book (like 1 world, 2 helping hands…), House of Worship puzzles or Hands of the Cause flashcards. Truly the options are endless, and I’m hoping feedback from parents and teachers will help me decide on the next project!
Baha’i Blog: What’s something that you learned while writing this book?
I relied heavily on the Baha’i Reference Library, so I learned more about all of the Baha’i terms. For example, that the concept of a Qiblih is mentioned in Christianity (Jerusalem), Islam (Mecca), and then designated by the Bab as “He Whom God will make manifest; whenever He moveth, it moveth, until He shall come to rest.” (The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Note 7). On the writing side, I learned the importance of consultation and setting a deadline. I had parents and teachers involved in reviewing the book and illustrations, and received some invaluable feedback. The deadline is so that, as artists, we don’t overanalyze our work and keep things moving.
Baha’i Blog: What were the most exciting and challenging parts of the process?
Challenging – definitely creating unity of vision in working with others. For the illustrations and the printing, communication was really essential and pursuing excellence. Oh, and trying to package over 100 books with an energetic and intrigued toddler moving about, ha-ha. Seeing the book come together was thrilling, as well as witnessing the excitement from other parents.
Baha’i Blog: What are your favorite children’s books?
I love Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, Rooth Sees a Trooth by Michael Karlberg, and The Questioners series by Andrea Beaty. With the shift toward technology and self-publishing, you can find books about almost anything your heart desires. I’d like to build a library of children’s books that explore spiritual and philosophical concepts at the appropriate level, that tell the stories of people who’ve changed the world, or just expose kids to different cultures and ideologies.
Baha’i blog: Where can we find the book and your work?
Now that the first run of the book has been completed, those interested in the second run can pre-order my book on Etsy. You can also check out my other projects in my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/AndreaHopeOrg
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope readers will take away with them, long after they’ve read the last page?
This is a great question. I guess at this stage for me, it’s the feeling of building Baha’i identity. Of course, we have larger events like Feast, holy days, and core activities and to complement that, I’d love for families to think of more ways to incorporate spirituality and faith in everyday life. Maybe that means praying together, reading Baha’i books and news posts, playing family games with spiritual themes…I’m sure together we can advance in our understanding what it means, as the beloved Guardian puts it, to “live the life.”
Baha’i Blog: Thank you for sharing, Andrea, and good luck with your future projects!
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.