Maria’s Island


Rita visits her yiayia (grandmother) every summer. Although her family live in London, Rita’s yiayia cannot leave her home, Crete, for reasons that Rita does not understand.

However, on a visit to Plaka, the village in which she once lived, Maria, Rita’s grandmother, tells the story of her family and how the dread disease of leprosy affected them, and her friends. Out from Plaka lies Spinalonga, an island to which lepers were isolated. Yet what happened to them, and then those who remained?

Maria lived through this torture, seeing her friends and family affected. Yet what if she was one of those affected? How might she raise herself above the stigma of isolation, the mark of leprosy and go about her life courageously, using her mother’s inspiration? What of friendship, the hope of a cure? How do people carry on?

Victoria Hislop tells a captivating and rich historical story, elevated by Gill Smith’s evocative pictures. Maria’s Island is recommended for bedtime reading or sharing in classrooms. It is an empathetic, thoughtful story that offers hope and inspiration.

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Maria’s Island

Victoria Hislop, illustrated by Gill Smith

(Walker Books)

Maria’s Island is off the coast of Crete. It’s a mystery to Maria at first, somewhere that she and Dimitris see her father heading aboard his boat, two passengers aboard. Spinalonga is somewhere that the ‘grown ups [do] not talk about- where very sick people’ go, a place for those with leprosy. What’s more this island is feared by the villagers of Plaka, although it is so close. After all, leprosy is an incurable disease. Although Anna rails at the girls’ father, he persists in carrying the patients to the island
Therefore, what happens when Dimitris shows signs of leprosy, and thereafter Maria and Anna’s mother? How can the friends and family communicate through an enforced situation? How might the family continue? Will there ever be a reunion, a reprise?
Victoria Hislop turns her writers’ gaze upon Greece,  to children’s books, sharing a post war history of austerity and recovery. Yet this story is also of faith and ultimately, in its lead character, one of devotion to others and a cure for this disease. Scientists such as those considered in Fantastically Great Women Scientists and their Stories offer hope to Maria, and thereafter the isolated of Spinalonga. Furthermore, they make the difference to the wider community of Crete and then the course of this disease.
Yet what has Maria lost? Furthermore, what might she keep close? Is it possible that Rita, her granddaughter,  might begin to understand why her Yiayia remains on Crete? Could a bus journey to Plaka stir Yiayia to share her story, the story of Maria’s Island?


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