Ayyam-i-Ha is a Baha’i festival that is joyously celebrated in countries and territories all over the world. It is a time of hospitality, generosity, and caring for the needy. This year Ayyam-i-Ha runs from February 26-29.
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.
Jungle of Virtues: A Book by Chelsea Lee Smith & Constanze von Kitzing
When I heard that Chelsea Lee Smith and Constanze von Kitzing had teamed up to create a board book for young children, called Jungle of Virtues, my heart sang! Sang, sang and sang some more! There are so few Baha’i-inspired materials for this age range, and Chelsea and Constanze are super talented. Among many of their other individual accomplishments, I interviewed Chelsea about her book, Garden of Virtues, and I chatted with Constanze about her illustrations for children’s prayer books. I am so delighted they have partnered to created this book and am also excited that they shared some behind-the-scenes information with me. Here’s our conversation:
Baha’i Blog: What inspired this book?
When I became a parent, I really wanted storybooks that would teach my children (and remind myself!) about the importance of practicing virtues each day. So in the past few years I have written several books for older children to share analogies about what virtues are. The first is called Mason’s Greatest Gems which was a collaboration with Elaheh Bos that shows how we each can find virtues inside us similar to mining gems. The second book is called Garden of Virtues which was illustrated by Shimone Mackie, and which uses the analogy of growing plants in a garden to share the idea of “growing” virtues in ourselves through practice. These books have been used in homes, schools and Baha’i children’s classes all around the world which has been awesome! But I really wanted to create a similarly virtues focused book which was appropriate for younger kids. I love rhyming books, and one day I began playing around with the idea of different animals showing virtues. From there I completed the poem which was the first draft of Jungle of Virtues and it sat mostly idle on my laptop for a few years before I came into contact with Constanze, who was the driving force behind getting it published.
Baha’i Blog: What was special about your collaboration with Constanze?
Constanze is a very experienced and talented illustrator, so it was really awesome to work alongside her to bring this story to life. I just love the style of illustration she chose for the book, and I appreciated how she incorporated ideas I had as well as came up with completely original ideas to add to the story through her drawings. She made each page really fun with the expressions of the animals and how they share the background space. It is amazing how she gave each animal a unique personality through their facial expressions. My favorite animal in the book is the little swimming hippo so determined to get to the food on the shore, though I adore them all to be honest!! I think younger kids will really enjoy the illustrations as well as the flow of the book with the rhyming on each page.
Baha’i Blog: What was the best part of making this book?
The drawing — which is probably my biggest passion in life. It’s just magical how I read a text, in this case Chelsea’s beautiful and fun verses, and an image or a character pops into my head and wants to come to life on paper. It was also very inspiring to work together with Chelsea, who is full of good ideas and generous with feedback. I’m sure this wasn’t our last book.
Baha’i Blog: What did you learn in the process of illustrating this book?
The technique I worked in was new to me: usually I paint by hand, but this time, I drew the outlines and colorized digitally. I was also curious how working together with people from Australia, Germany and the US (hello Bahhaj!!) would turn out, but it actually felt like we were sitting next to each other, carried by the same vision to make a beautiful book and probably sharing a rumbling stomach from fasting!
Baha’i Blog: What are you working on now? What are your future projects?
I’m a full-time illustrator and do work on many projects at the same time. What I love most is to work directly with the author, as in this case. When I asked in a Baha’i moms Facebook group about topics they are interested for books most said “virtues for small kids”, we did that now. They also said “biographies of heroes of the Faith for younger kids”, so that might be an idea too!
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Chelsea and Constanze, for telling us about your new and exciting book! You can purchase ‘Jungle of Virtues’ here on Amazon.
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.