Across Australia young people are participating in an endeavour that strives to give them a voice in today’s society. Through the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, these junior youth groups are enhancing their power of expression, sharpening their spiritual perception, analysing the constructive and destructive forces of society and changing their surroundings through the service projects.
The period of junior youth is one of transition and discovery. No longer children and not yet youth, those in this age group are searching for their identity and yearning for a sense of purpose. The Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program material plays a vital role in assisting these adolescents as they develop a concept of service and discover their place in society. According to the Universal House of Justice, these books “…assist junior youth to navigate through a crucial stage of their lives and to become empowered to direct their energies toward the advancement of civilization.” 1
The Discovery series of books, written by Scottish author Jacqueline Mehrabi, acts as the perfect complement to the Junior Youth material. The trilogy has been developed to prepare junior youth for the spiritual obligations that come with reaffirming their Faith in Baha’u’llah – using storytelling to familiarise the readers with certain laws and ordinances including fasting and obligatory prayer. We spoke to Jackie about her latest works and what she hopes the books achieve.
Baha’i Blog: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us Jackie! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I became a Baha’i when I was 17, after hearing about the Faith from a fellow-pupil at school in England (a long time ago!). When I was 20 I pioneered to Scotland and lived in Aberdeen, then in the Orkney Islands (when I married my husband, Daryoush, and where our children were born), and live currently in Dumfries. I have three children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Baha’i Blog: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Did you always want to write books for children and youth?
I loved books from the moment I learnt to read, and can trace the moment I knew I wanted to write to one day when I was 10 and a teacher at school read aloud a story I had written and said he liked it. I was very surprised because teachers did not tend to praise children much in those days, and I never came top in anything anyway(!), but that is when my love for writing began.
Later, when my children were born I wrote stories for them and these formed the basis of my first published books for children.
Baha’i Blog: Tell us about the Discovery series. What did you want it to achieve?
The latest books I have written are for young people aged 11-15 or older, in particular a trilogy in the Discovery series in preparation for the spiritual “right of passage” young Baha’is take when they reach 15. These three books are told in the context of an imaginary Baha’i family living in the Orkney Islands, and are intertwined with the ups and downs of family life, with love and humour, and with colourful Norse tales from the island’s culture. The first in the series is titled Discovering the Moon (the daily obligatory prayers), and the second Discovering the Sun (the Fast). The third in the trilogy, Discovering the Sea explores the Lesser Covenant, in particular the Wills of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha.
Baha’i Blog: What are the storylines of each of the books?
Discovering the Moon is the story of a soon-to-be fifteen-year-old girl as she explores what it means to be in charge of her own spiritual destiny by having deep spiritual conversations with her loving family members. The book invites readers into Fern’s world to ponder deep questions about what it means to grow up and grapple with one’s spiritual existence.
Discovering the Sunfinds fifteen-year-old Fern leaving home to attend boarding school, and preparing to observe the Baha’i Fast for the first time.
Discovering the Seafinds sixteen-year-old Fern developing a new and meaningful friendship, and exploring some weighty spiritual topics.
Baha’i Blog: Susan Reed is the illustrator of the books. How did you come across her work and what attracted you to her illustrations?
I saw her illustrations in another book for children and liked them because the characters looked natural.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much for agreeing to speak about this wonderful resource for our youth, Jackie! We are looking forward to the final release in the trilogy.
Dellaram is a Baha'i, wife, and mother of three, who works as a freelance journalist and copywriter in her hometown of Ballarat, Australia. She is passionate about building community and loves the thrill that comes with op-shopping!