Victoria Hislop (text) and Gill Smith (illustrator), Maria’s Island, Walker Books, June 2021, 128 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781406399073
A young girl, Rita, visits her grandmother in Crete and notices a faded family photograph. Curious, Rita asks her yiayia (grandmother) about the picture and what became of those in it. As she learns about her Greek heritage, Rita discovers a family history she never expected.
As a child, her grandmother, Maria, grew up in a small village in Crete named Plaka. While life in Plaka was mostly good, a shadow hovered near the town causing fear and discrimination – Spinalonga. The leper colony.
Maria’s Island is the story of Maria Petrakis, one of the original children in Hislop’s 2006 bestselling adult novel, The Island. Maria’s story is one of love, loss, friendship, sadness, and hope. When the disease spreads to those Maria loves, her life is changed irrevocably. She must learn to live her life despite the challenges.
Beautifully written, Maria’s Island deals with themes of stigma, shame and ostracism in a way that is accessible to younger readers.
Smith’s illustrations are evocative and transport the reader to another time and place. They beautifully capture the simple joys and the heartaches of Maria’s life in this part of Greece.
This moving and fascinating tale promotes empathy and awareness. It’s perfect for independent readers and as a shared, read-aloud story with an adult.
Recommended for ages 8+ years.
Reviewed by Fiona Miller-Stevens