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.
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. It typically falls around the end of February and beginning of March and it is either four or five days long.
Every year Baha’is from all over the world and of all cultural backgrounds celebrate Naw-Ruz, the beginning of a new year in the Baha’i Calendar. Naw Ruz marks the end of the 19-day Baha’i Fast, which is a period of reflection and profound spiritual reinvigoration. Naw-Ruz is a celebration of a “spiritual springtime” that symbolizes both individual renewal and mankind’s revitalization.
Melissa Charepoo’s Children’s Books for Ayyam-i-Ha, the Fast & Naw-Ruz
Baha’i Blog: Hi Melissa! Thank you so much for joining us! To begin, could you please tell us a little about yourself and your work writing children’s books?
First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to chat with you. This is a great honor.
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, by my dear Puerto Rican parents in a loving Catholic home. I fell in love with the teachings of Baha’u’llah when I was in my third year of college and after graduating from a Masters in Architecture I met my husband and we got married. We lived in Arizona for a couple of years and now we call Metro Atlanta home. After working as an architect I decided to stay home with our two inquisitive, perceptive and energetic boys who are half Puerto Rican, half Persian and are the joy of our lives. Serving the Plans of the Universal House of Justice and engaging in the process of community building is the core of our family life.
Although this is the first time I have written children’s books, I have experience investigating and writing on a Baha’i topic. I dedicated my Master’s thesis to the design of a National Baha’i Center for Puerto Rico and the conceptual framework was inspired by the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha about how our senses connect this material world to our rational soul, and the role that beauty and art have in connecting our material reality with our spiritual reality. I would like to share with you two of His quotes that have inspired my understanding of this concept:
“All Art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. When the Light of the Sun of Truth inspires the mind of a painter, he produces marvelous pictures. These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose, when showing forth the praise of God.” (Abdu’l-Baha quoted in Lady Blomfield’s The Chosen Highway, p. 167)
“It is natural for the heart and spirit to take pleasure and enjoyment in all things that show forth symmetry, harmony, and perfection. For instance: a beautiful house, a well designed garden, a symmetrical line, a graceful motion, a well written book, pleasing garments — in fact, all things that have in themselves grace or beauty are pleasing to the heart and spirit.” (Abdu’l-Baha, as quoted in A Brief Account of My Visit to Acca, pp. 11-14)
After becoming a mother, I explored these concepts in the process of creating a Baha’i home, especially for Baha’i holy days. I started creating beautiful decorations and children’s activities to achieve this goal. And understanding that other families may have similar needs, I founded Delighted Hearts. Through my company I help parents create a festive environment at home for Baha’i holy days with beautifully designed decorations that not only help them make memories with their children but also nurture their childrens’ Baha’i identities through activities that bring their hearts close to the Holy Writings in a fun and inviting way.
When the first spark of the idea for the books happened, it felt like the right next step.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to create these books?
Every night, before bedtime we say prayers and read our children stories about the Faith. I was looking for a book that would explain the meaning and purpose of Ayyam-i-Ha, the Fast and Naw-Ruz based on the Holy Writings and I couldn’t find it, so I thought to myself if this is something I need, maybe others need a resource like this as well. At that moment I knew that writing and illustrating the books would be my next project. Conceptually I drew inspiration from paragraph #16 of The Kitab-i-Aqdas and as I gained a deeper understanding of these festivities, I extended my research to other available resources on the topic.
Baha’i Blog: What was the process like to put these books together?
Since this was my first time writing books, it was a steep learning curve. I had a solid background in fine arts but no knowledge of the book publication process — many sleepless nights and family sacrifices. Luckily I have an amazing husband who saw the vision and supported me all the way through.
Fundamental to the process was the assistance of many Baha’i friends, from all over the world, who shared a piece of their culture with me, making it possible for me to convey the concept of “unity in diversity” in the books. Other friends helped me with proofreading, image proofing, editing and selflessly answered my questions about the process of book writing and publishing. A true labor of love.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope young readers will take away from these beautiful books?
I would hope for them to take away a few things such as an understanding and the memorization of key concepts about Ayyam-i-Ha, the Fast and Naw-Ruz according to the Holy Writings. For example, that Ayyam-i-Ha is a period of spiritual preparation for the Fast with three main components: good cheer to ourselves, good cheer to the poor and needy, and glorification of God’s name; that as a Baha’i, we can observe the fast from the age of 15 until we are 70 years of age; and that Naw-Ruz is a festival given to us by God for having completed the Fast. These are some of the concepts explored in the books that will help the reader gain a deeper understanding from a very young age.
Some other topics for young readers to take away from the books would be a sense of reverence, awe and gratitude of having the privilege to observe these God ordained festivities which are rich in history and specific in purpose and the importance of having an inclusive attitude, a world embracing vision, and the joy of belonging to a Faith that celebrates unity in diversity.
Baha’i Blog: What is something you learnt in this creative process?
There were two quotes that accompanied me through this process that captured my learning from it about feeling empowered (when you put your heart and soul into something that you love you can always achieve it) and about the spiritual responsibility of finishing a project once started:
“Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time.” (Abdu’l-Baha, paraphrased from Daily Lessons Received in Akka: January 1908 by Helen S. Goodall and Ella Goodall Cooper)
“There are four qualities which I love to see manifested in people: first, enthusiasm and courage; second, a face wreathed in smiles and a radiant countenance; third, that they see with their own eyes and not through the eyes of others; fourth, the ability to carry a task once begun, through to its end.” (Baha’u’llah quoted in Ali-Akbar Furutan’s (editor) Stories of Baha’u’llah, 1986)
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so very much, Melissa, for taking the time to share this with us!
If you are looking to purchase Melissa’s books, Celebrating Ayyam-i-Ha Around the World can be bought here on Amazon and copies of Observing the Fast and Celebrating Naw-Ruz Around the World can be found here on Amazon. She has also created a Baha’i-inspired mandala colouring book, which can be purchased on Amazon as well. Here is the link to Melissa’s shop on Etsy, where you can find decorations and children’s activities for Baha’i holy days.
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.