Kid’s Book Review: Maria’s Island

Kid’s Book Review: Maria’s Island

About the Book and Author

Adapted from the international bestseller for adults The Island by celebrated novelist Victoria Hislop, this is is a moving story for children. It has the same sense of history and place as the popular story for grown-ups but Maria’s Island also contains the loveliest watercolour illustrations that accompany the narrative perfectly by artist Gill Smith. It is published by Walker Books and will appeal to children aged 8-12 years who enjoy reading historical fiction.

The absorbing story of the Cretan village of Plaka and the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony – is told to us by Maria Petrakis, one of the children in the original version of The Island. She tells us of the ancient and misunderstood disease of leprosy, exploring the themes of stigma, shame and the treatment of those who are different, which are as relevant for children as adults.

Maria's Island cover
Victoria Hislop

Victoria Hislop read English at Oxford, and worked in publishing, PR and as a journalist before becoming a novelist.

Her first novel, The Island, held the number one slot in the Sunday Times paperback charts for eight consecutive weeks and has sold over two million copies worldwide. Victoria was the Newcomer of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007 and won the Richard & Judy Summer Read competition.Victoria acted as script consultant on the 26-part adaptation of The Island in Greece, which achieved record ratings for Greek television. It is this story that also forms the base for Maria’s Island. You can read more about her books for adults on her website.

Gill Smith is a freelance illustrator who completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at The Cambridge School of Art in 2019. Ordinary life and wondering about people’s experiences motivates her illustrations. For as long as she can remember, she has loved drawing people. Getting into a character’s head, from fiction or history, and seeing the world through their eyes is a springboard for my own stories to emerge.Previously, she studied English Literature and Graphic Arts and has worked as a primary teacher, arts educator and theatre maker/designer.

Book Review

The writer has a very nice way of writing and the words she uses are sunny like the island itself

This intriguing book is about the devastating disease called Leprosy and how people coped with it. It was a very infectious disease and there was no cure so the only way to deal with it was to separate the infected people to protect others from getting it. The Greek leprosy colony was on the island of Spinalonga, an island very close to Maria’s village (Plaka) and the story takes place between Spinalonga and Plaka.

Maria is the main character and she lives in her village with her family and her friends. She enjoys playing on the beach with her best friend, Dimitri and she is happy with her family only her big sister Anna is a bit selfish. The leprosy colony is a mystery to them because they have learnt about its ancient past but the adults don’t talk to them much about what it is used for nowadays. Everybody is very scared about leprosy in the village and the story shifts from happy to sad when Maria’s mum and Dimitri catch leprosy and have to go to Spinalonga. This affects Anna because she can’t cope with the bad reputation her family might get from having someone with leprosy but Maria doesn’t care so much about that. She still loves her mum and Dimitri and wants them to be safe and keep in touch with her.

Surprisingly enough, Spinalonga isn’t a bad place to live. Maria’s mum writes to her and draws pictures of the village which has a cafe, restaurant, flowers and even a school and a hospital. Eventually, the story moves from Plaka to Spinalonga because Maria catches the disease and has to move over there. Here, she works in the hospital to help the people who are more ill than her and she wants to help to find a cure for the disease. One day a doctor comes to the hospital and he works with Maria to find a cure for Leprosy. To do this volunteers had to take certain drugs to see which one had an influence. They had to make people feel quite poorly to cure them but it all turned out well in the end.

The writer has a very nice way of writing and the words she uses are sunny like the island itself. Maria seems to be a sunny person too and very different to her sister. Maria is like a hero because she was brave enough to cope with losing her mother but she also held onto her even though some people in her village started to avoid her because of the leprosy. She was even more brave when she volunteered to take the cure because it made her so ill before she got better. The story shows how some people are scared of the disease and others aren’t. It helps you to understand that good things can come from bad times.

The pictures are like the words because they are sunny and full of life. Sometimes, you can feel as though you are actually standing with the people in the picture because of the angle that the illustrator draws them. Life seems very colourful in Plaka but whenever there is bad news, the colours fade and the sun drains away. There are some illustrations that take up two whole pages and these are always beautiful and they make you want to keep reading the story because they help you to understand the story more.

Overall, I loved this book because it was so interesting to learn about the disease, but also to realise that if you are courageous like Maria even illness does not have to hold you back.

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Reviewer Profile

  • Name: Annabel
  • Age: 10 years
  • Likes: board games, dogs and sweets
  • Dislikes: sticky toffee pudding and headaches
  • Favourite Book: The Girl at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf
  • Favourite Film: Harry Potter films
  • Favourite Song: Shotgun by George Ezra