Is it possible for books, art and museums to be instantly appealing to children?
One Maltese author has proved that yes, it is very possible. Roberta Bajada’s children’s novel Arloġġ u Tila is a fun combination of classic paintings, museums with vanishing acts and a gripping mystery plot.
Red-haired Ponsjetta is the star of the book. “Ponsjetta Van der Mark just walked in my head one fine day. I liked her so much that I had to write a story about her. Next came the uncle with the huge mansion full of paintings. Then I did my math: Ponsjetta + uncle with huge house = an adventure on art,” quips Bajada.
The scene is set immediately in the opening chapter: Ponsjetta’s father has disappeared. All of a sudden Ponsjetta and her brother Peter find themselves orphaned, living in the enormous house of their Uncle Alfonso.
The Van der Mark children are treated like domestic servants and are barely allowed to leave the front door. One day, Romeo the gardener gives Ponsjetta a mysterious-looking watch, and it is only then that it dawns on her that there is something weird going on in her uncle’s house.
The book then takes us back to the 15th century where we see the young Cecilia Gallerani posing for the famous artist, Leonardo da Vinci. She was certain that Da Vinci’s painting of her would bewitch the Duke into marrying her.
But what has this got to do with Ponsjetta, Peter and the mysterious disappearance of their father? There is a link, especially as while the Van der Mark siblings were trapped in their Uncle’s house, in Poland a priceless painting disappeared from the national museum hall. Rather, it did not vanish, the painting sort of … emptied.
This fictional story explores art in an enthralling manner. Children who read it because they are hooked to the adventure story will also, by the last chapter, have nurtured a love for the works of Salvador Dalí, Edvard Munch and Leonardo Da Vinci.
“Deep down the book is aimed at nurturing children’s creativity,” says Bajada, whose post grad studies focused on the relationship between art movements and literary texts in the Victorian and modern periods. Her tale is enriched by the quirky illustrations created by London-based artist Daniela ‘iella’ Attard.
Chris Gruppetta, Merlin Publishers Director said: “This manuscript was a finalist in our abbozz literary competition, and the judges’ opinion was that there was plenty of potential in it. The author and her editor worked on the manuscript at length and the end result is an exciting unusual magical mystery that takes us through the fascinating world of fine arts.”
Arloġġ u Tila is available from all bookshops or online directly from www.merlinpublishers.com