- As a proudly Australian initiative, we’re excited to showcase a collection of Australian stories, music, tributes and more.
I have immense respect for the creativity of Naree Chan: she’s a doer whose work is vibrant and brimming with love. I was thrilled to discover her latest initiative called Sing out the Songs of Joy which is a prayerbook for children, as well as an online musical offering. In this interview, Naree generously tells us all about it:
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Naree (NAR-ree) Chan, and I am a Cambodian American Baha’i who grew up working in a family jewelry store in Memphis, Tennessee. I was raised as a Buddhist, and I learned about the Baha’i Faith after studying Reflections on the Life of the Spirit while teaching English in Beijing. After living in China, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Taiwan, I now live in the San Francisco Bay Area in California with my Chinese American husband and our two young children. I work as a public attorney serving local government by day, and I design Baha’i inspired jewelry for Nari Jewelry by night.
Could you please tell us a little about your prayer book Sing Out the Songs of Joy?
Sing Out the Songs of Joy is a collection of 10 vibrantly illustrated Bahaʼi prayers and writings for children ages 0-5 years old. Illustrations by Indonesian artist Abigail Tan feature the diverse beauty of our global human family. The prayer book is designed specifically for toddlers (and adults) who love rainbows, unicorns, and mermaids.
That sounds very appealing according to the little ones I know! What inspired you to create it?
I have always found it is easier for me to enter into a state of prayer and connect with other souls through song. Once I became a mother, I was in awe at how young children can begin singing prayers to simple melodies well before they can speak sentences. Now that I serve as a teacher for our children’s virtues classes in our community, I am even more sensitive to the importance of weaving music into memorization of the prayers and quotes. In Teaching Children’s Classes, we are reminded that singing songs “fills the hearts and souls of children with happiness.” Abdu’l-Baha says that music “has wonderful sway and effect in the hearts of children, for their hearts are pure, and melodies have great influence in them. The latent talents with which the hearts of these children are endowed will find expression through the medium of music.” 1
Could you tell us a little about each of the illustrations and how you decided which prayers or writings to highlight?
Each of the illustrations has a special story inspired by a personal story, relationship, or inspiring folktale. For “Blessed is the Spot,” we tried to capture the Indigenous creation story of Turtle Island and the brave muskrat who was the only animal able to successfully retrieve some soil from the deep ocean to begin the continent of North America. As an homage to my Khmer (Cambodian) heritage, the traditional karma story of an elephant rescuing an ant from drowning in water (and the ant subsequently saving the elephant’s life by biting the leg of a poacher) captures the quote by Abdu’l-Baha to “let your heart burn with lovingkindness for all who may cross your path.”
For “O God educate these children”, the Asian mom reading a book with her little boy clutching his pink owl represents me, my son, and his “baby penguin” during our special reading time, while the Asian father tucking a little girl into bed with her panda for “O God guide me” captures the daily bedtime routine between my husband and daughter. As a tribute to my short period of service at the Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi, India in 2012, the last illustration is a two-page spread of the “Lotus Temple” with one of the resident temple peacocks and an Indian girl wearing a bindi, bangles, and brightly coloured pink and purple sari with namaste hands greeting visitors to illuminate these passages by Abdu’l-Baha, “God has chosen you you to blend together human hearts and give light to the human world” and “To love all the world; To love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace…”
After the powerful experience of taking the Wilmette Institute course “Eradicating Anti-Black Racism and Building a Unified Society” in the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, I intentionally tried to weave in images of Black and Brown beauty. For example, for “Bestow upon me a pure heart like unto a pearl” the tanned mermaid and seahorse are delighted to discover a black pearl as a representation of purity of heart instead of the more often depicted white pearl. In “I am but a tiny seed”, an African American girl is depicted planting magical seeds, while “So powerful is the light of unity” features a Black boy with a unicorn underneath a colourful rainbow. For “I want you to be happy,” the father and son have a rich caramel skin colour and curly hair.
The prayer book is part of a larger initiative. Could you tell us a little bit about the project as a whole?
Parents and caregivers can listen, learn, and sing out the songs of joy by following us on Instagram or YouTube. The illustrations are paired with new and publicly available songs of the selected prayers and writings featured in Sing Out the Songs of Joy. In the words of Abdu’l-Baha, we hope friends will be inspired to “clap thy hands, beat the drum, lift up thy voice, and sing out the songs of joy” at upcoming Nineteen Day Feasts, Holy Day celebrations, and community gatherings with friends of the Bahaʼi community.
The original paperback version of the book is available on Amazon.
Thank you, Naree, for taking the time to share this with us!
- From a talk given by Abdu’l-Baha on 24 April 1912, published in The Promulgation of Universal Peace, par. 1, p. 71
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