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Victoria Hislop was inspired to create this children’s adaptation of her bestselling novel The Island when a Cretan teacher observed that its themes of loss and stigma are as pertinent to children as they are to adults. In addition, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the author noted parallels between the lepers of her book and those infected with Covid-19 - the need to isolate, to be apart from family and friends, with physical contact forbidden. This version of Hislop’s original novel - beautifully, softly illustrated by Gill Smith - is framed as a story told by a grandmother to her grand-daughter. Rita lives in London, but spends her summers on Crete with her Greek grandma, Maria, who is “kind and gentle, with twinkly brown eyes and silver hair tied up in a bun.” Prompted by an old photo, Maria tells Rita the story of the deserted island of Spinalonga, where lepers were sent to live. She recalls fears over her father taking sick people to the island, people who would never leave, for they were destined to live out their days in isolation. With the disease viewed as a “living death”, and sufferers seen as “unclean”, shame and stigma swell to epic proportions, and it’s not long before these terrifying circumstances become all too real for young Maria. Later in life, a forward-thinking, compassionate doctor and Maria revolutionise how lepers are treated and viewed, with concrete hope coming in the form of a possible cure, and an all-pervasive theme of treating everyone with dignity and respect - no matter what their circumstances, no matter what they’re suffering from. Packed with drama and powerful messages of compassion and hope, this is a beautifully-realised adaptation.
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