Little Oliver is on a walk with his mother Bettina when he first discovers the word ‘love’. When he returns home, his other mother, Elena, is waiting for him.
What follows, in a new children’s book from Merlin Publishers, is a tender explanation of love in all its forms: from romantic love between two partners, to a child and his parents, to a family and its pet, and a person’s passion for their work.
Mamà, allura din imħabba, written and illustrated by Moira Scicluna Zahra and Mark Scicluna, is not the first children’s book on the Maltese market with same-sex parents at its core: a set of similarly-themed books raised controversy last year when they were donated to local schools.
It is, however, the first to be written in Malta and in the Maltese language, a milestone the authors feel is significant as the country prepares to introduce marriage equality in the coming weeks.
Ms Scicluna Zahra told the Times of Malta the idea for the book first came about three years ago, just after civil unions had been introduced in the country.
“Although the law had passed, we still heard people complaining about it, particularly about adoption,” she said. “We realised there were going to be children in this situation in the near future and there were going to be people who looked down on them.
Book aims to be a learning experience not just for children, but also for parents
“Children with two mums or two dads should have access to books in their own language which depict characters in their situation. If all the books in Maltese are about children with a mum and dad, inevitably you’re going to feel like you’re something different.”
Nevertheless, Ms Scicluna Zahra is keen to stress that the same-sex parents are not the main subject of the book, just the scenario.
The aim was not to explain the issue in the book but to reflect a reality for many children today, and provide space for parents to discuss the themes it raises.
“We chose the subject of love because it links to the idea of acceptance. The book aims to be a learning experience not just for children, but also for parents,” she said.
The book is available from leading bookshops or directly from Merlin Publishers, although Ms Scicluna Zahra said she was hopeful schools would be interested in having it in their libraries.
Nor is she overly concerned about the controversy that plagued similar books last year, when a campaign was created to keep them out of schools and two ministers became involved to smooth over concerns.
“We were a little concerned by that controversy, but it made us realise we had to do this even more,” she said.
“It showed us there was a space for a book like this in Maltese.”
Merlin director Chris Gruppetta said that while the subject was not an obvious choice, the publishers felt it called for a “sensitive narrative exploration that would gently stimulate discussion”.
“It felt important, to us, that the family in the book was depicted as a very regular family, going about the daily routines and chores we all do in our everyday lives,” he said.
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