top of page


Children’s book brings Cyprus history to life

The search for a children’s history of Cyprus that children will want to read is over. The Island Everyone Wanted, a new, beautifully illustrated book about the island’s fascinating history is the perfect gift for children who may have Cypriot origins or who may have been there on holiday.

So when her children were young, she went in search of a book that would depict this for them. Instead she found whatever books were available in bookshops were dull and text book like. There was no way the children of today fed on an instant entertainment diet of television, Playstation and video would read them unless forced to do so in school. Feeling she could do better than that, she sat down and wrote one herself.


“There are so many lovely stories associated with Cyprus”, she says. “There’s the story of King Peter who always took his wife’s nightie with him when he travelled. Some horrific ones, like the slaying of Marcantonio Bragadino. And some funny ones.


“I wanted to make our history come alive, to be fun not boring, and above all to be easy to read for children so they would learn”, she adds. 


In a nutshell she wanted to show that the history of Cyprus has been a history of conquest, where through the ages the island was controlled by the various powers of the day, hence the title. As a leading producer of copper in antiquity, Cyprus fell prey to the big regional powers of the day - Egyptians. Persians, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and the British. Whoever ruled the Mediterranean had to have Cyprus.


“I envisioned a book where each period or event was shown through a single illustration covering a two page spread with as few words as possible”.


Paramount to her vision was finding the right illustrator. After several attempts, she found Eleni Lambrou, whose beautiful painstaking pictures taking almost three years to complete, simply make history come alive.


“We used historical sources for inspiration and tried through each picture to convey the feeling of each period”.


Wherever possible artefacts from the museum are included for each relevant period, like the famous octopus pot that can be seen in the illustration about the copper age, the Kyrenia ship, which ploughed the seas during the reign of the Ptolemies, and the Pafos mosaics shown in a house as it was collapsing during an earthquake.


The artist used historical sources for depicting period costumes and other details as accurately as possible. Those parents in the know, will recognise the style of the mosaics of Ravenna, which are the inspiration behind the illustration for the Byzantine period. The Venetian period shows Nicosia being attacked by the Ottomans based on an original engraving, while in the period on Independence, people are shown in Eleftheria Sq complete with billboards with advertisements from the time, driving 60s cars and Vespas and reading newspapers announcing independence which are exact copies of the originals.


“Children love to play games, so we decided to hide a little figurine on every page for children to spot”, the author says. “It is first seen being carved in the village of Chirokitia and then appears in each period going down through the ages”.


Basically there isn’t anything like this book on the market. It is one of those books that children will cherish, and is so beautiful that adults will also want to keep it as a coffee table book


To νησί που όλοι ήθελαν

Ένα σπουδαίο παιδικό βιβλίο για την ιστορία της Κύπρου

Χάρηκα πάρα πολύ όταν μετροφύλλησα το θαυμάσιο βιβλίο που έγραψε η Μαρίνα Χριστοφίδη και εικονογράφησε η Ελένη Λάμπρου με τίτλο «ΤΟ ΝΗΣΙ ΠΟΥ ΟΛΟΙ ΗΘΕΛΑΝ». Επιτέλους ένα σωστό και ωραίο βιβλίο που με πολύ απλά λόγια και ωραίες εικόνες εξηγεί στα παιδιά του Δημοτικού την ιστορία του τόπου μας. Θα πρέπει το βιβλίο αυτό να είναι το μπεστ σέλερ των Χριστουγέννων! Και νομίζω πως το Υπουργείο Παιδείας θα πρέπει να το εισαγάγει στα σχολεία. Δεν είναι εύκολο να βρεθούν άνθρωποι που να παραγάγουν ένα τέτοιο βιβλίο με κέφι και γνώσεις. 

Επικοινώνησα με τη Μαρίνα Χριστοφίδη, που μου είπε πώς ξεκίνησε η ιδέα για το βιβλίο όταν ο γιος της ήταν 7 χρονών και ήθελε να του μιλήσει για την ιστορία. Έψαξε στα βιβλιοπωλεία αλλά τα βιβλία που βρήκε ήταν στεγνά και γραμμένα χωρίς ενδιαφέρον για ένα παιδί. Έτσι ξεκίνησε να γράφει το κείμενο. Αυτό που βέβαια κάνει το βιβλίο τόσο ξεχωριστό είναι η εικονογράφηση. Η κάθε περίοδος της ιστορίας εικονογραφείται σε δύο σελίδες. Για την εικονογράφηση χρησιμοποιήθηκαν οι πηγές, εκθέματα του μουσείου, η πολιορκία της Λευκωσίας, για παράδειγμα, στηρίχτηκε στους ιστορικούς χάρτες της εποχής αλλά η Ελένη Λάμπρου ζωγράφισε στα «καντούνια» της Λευκωσίας το παράθυρο του παλιού παλατιού των Λουζινιανών, που έριξαν οι Αγγλοι, και της σημερινής Αρχιεπισκοπής. Σε κάθε σελίδα υπάρχει μια κρυμμένη φιγούρα και είναι ένα παιγνίδι για τα παιδιά να την ανακαλύψουν. Την πρωτοβρίσκουμε στη σελίδα για τη Χοιροκοιτία και αργότερα σε όλες τις εποχές της ιστορίας. Διαβάστε και χαρίστε το σπουδαίο αυτό βιβλίο. Δεν υπάρχει τίποτε ανάλογο στην αγορά και θα ήθελα ακόμα μια φορά να συγχαρώ τη Μαρίνα Χριστοφίδου και την Ελένη Λάμπρου για τη σπουδαία αυτή δουλειά που μας χάρισαν. Μακάρι να παραγάγουν και άλλα τέτοια εξαίρετα βιβλία! Ένθετο Δεν υπάρχει τίποτε ανάλογο στην αγορά και θα ήθελα ακόμα μια φορά να συγχαρώ τη Μαρίνα Χριστοφίδου και την Ελένη Λάμπρου για τη σπουδαία αυτή δουλειά που μας χάρισαν.


Stuck for Christmas gift ideas? What about a book on Cyprus? 

This is a beautifully written and illustrated book that will bring the history of Cyprus alive for a new generation of children. Vibrant, simple and well-balanced, the Island That Everyone Wanted spans the millennia, beginning with Cyprus’ emergence from the sea at the dawn of time to the 2004 referendum on the Annan plan.


It is necessarily a broad-brush approach, but writer Marina Christofides wisely marries big events with instantly memorable details and anecdotes that will engross any child. What boy will not relish the travails of General Bragadino, the Venetian defender of Famagusta who had his nose and ears cut off before being flayed alive by invading Ottomans? What girl wouldn’t delight in the romance of the Lusignan King Peter I who was so enchanted by his wife that he never travelled without her nightdress as a comforting talisman?


The text is complemented by illustrations that spring off the page: rich, evocative and lovingly detailed, they are keen spurs to a child’s fertile young imagination.


Upheaval is the hallmark of Cyprus’ history. The island, always a geo-strategic prize and victim of its location, was invaded from all directions. Conquerors came from Phoenicia, Persia, Egypt and Rome, each wave bringing new cultures and traditions. Later there were Lusignans, Venetians, Ottomans and British. All of which should mean that Cyprus’ history should be exciting enough for school pupils. Sadly, this often has not been the case. Instead, many children grumble that they are burdened with dull lists that name and date seemingly endless Byzantine emperors and their laws. Historical characters remain stubbornly two-dimensional, their relevance obscure, their eras distant and irrelevant.

It was precisely to address this problem that spurred Marina into writing the book.

“My adventure with this book began 10 years ago, when my son was 7. I was trying to explain certain parts of the history of Cyprus to him but with all the boring, monotonous and heavy-going material all children like him are reading, even today, I found myself looking for an alternative, he would be interested in,” says Marina.


It was when she discovered that no such thing existed that she began researching and writing The Island Everyone Wanted. Being a writer herself, Marina had a vision of a book targeted at elementary school kids with a fun twist, similar to that of cartoons. “We all know that most kids hate to read, so the idea of explaining a lot of things through pictures was adopted and with the help of Eleni Lambrou, the illustrator, after three years of work, the result is fantastic.


“I wanted to include as much as possible about various rulers including Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, French kings and queens, Venetians, Ottomans and the British, all of which ruled the island at one point leaving their mark,” says Marina. “But I’ve also included other aspects such as gruesome details about how rulers were killed, which I know kids love.”

Indeed, the book, which focuses heavily on illustration, fires the imagination with, for example, scenes from daily lives of the Stone Age village of Khirokitia, as well as of objects from each period such as pottery, artefacts and architecture.


“I had never worked on a history book therefore the necessary research was extensive on all subjects depicted in the book,” says Eleni. “From the costumes to the backgrounds, I found viewing books and visiting museums, extremely helpful in my research.”


The early pages describe Cyprus before man, when it was a lush, green island. One and a half million years ago pygmy hippopotami and elephants swam here from surrounding lands and, apart from mice and shrews, they had the place to themselves until man arrived 10,000 years ago. Another fascinating point is that cats lived here around 6,000 BC and the oldest skeleton was found buried near its owner in Khirokitia.


While children will undoubtedly be more interested in the colourful details of Cyprus’ early history, adults will probably be more impressed with the considered way the minefield of the island’s modern history is dealt with. The lead up to Independence and its aftermath is treated objectivity. And we, at the Cyprus Mail have a particular reason to be impressed with these pages. Using photographs of the time as a guide, Eleni illustrates a crowd scene at Eleftheria Square circa 1960. In the foreground is a man reading the front page of the then broadsheet Cyprus Mail printed the day after Independence had been declared. Excellent stuff!


Μικροί αναγνώστες

Το βιβλίο "Το νησί που όλοι ήθελαν" έγραψε η Μαρίνα Χριστοφίδη και εικονογράφησε η Ελένη Λάμπρου. Παρουσιάζει την ιστορία του νησιού μας από τη δημιουργία του μέχρι σήμερα. Απευθύνεται σε παιδιά και είναι μια προσπάθεια καταγραφής της ιστορίας, μέσα από ευχάριστες και διασκεδαστικές ιστορίες που δεν κουράζουν. Αρχαίες ελληνικές πόλεις-κράτη, βυθισμένα εμπορικά πλοία, εκλεκτά ρωμαϊκά ψηφιδωτά, βασιλικοί γάμοι και βάναυσοι πόλεμοι, τα σημαντικότερα γεγονότα που καθόρισαν την ιστορία του νησιού ζωντανεύουν μέσα από τις σελίδες του.

Η συγγραφέας συνέλαβε την ιδέα να γράψει το έργο αυτό όταν προσπάθησε να βρει ένα βιβλίο για την ιστορία του τόπου μας για τα δικά της παιδιά. Ανακάλυψε ότι τα διαθέσιμα ήταν ανιαρά και πληκτικά. Αποφάσισε λοιπόν να γράψει κάτι η ίδια, αισθανόμενη ότι θα μπορούσε να προσφέρει κάτι καλύτερο. Για τη συγγραφέα, η ιστορία της Κύπρου αποτελούσε ανέκαθεν μια σειρά ιστοριών, πολλές από αυτές διασκεδαστικές, άλλες λυπητερές, αλλά πάντα ενδιαφέρουσες.


Η Ελένη Λάμπρου χρειάστηκε σχεδόν τρία χρόνια για να ολοκληρώσει την εικονογράφηση. Οι όμορφες και επιμελημένες εικόνες κάνουν την ιστορία να ζωντανέψει. Όπου ήταν δυνατό χρησιμοποιήθηκαν και φωτογραφίες εκθεμάτων του μουσείου για κάθε σχετική περίοδο, όπως ο περίφημος μυκηναϊκός αμφορέας με το χταπόδι, το καράβι της Κερύνειας και τα ψηφιδωτά της Πάφου.


Το παιδικό βιβλίο ιστορίας "Το νησί που όλοι ήθελαν" διατίθεται στα ελληνικά και στα αγγλικά από όλα τα μεγάλα βιβλιοπωλεία.


The day Denktash showed me around my house

In April 2003 when the checkpoints were opened, many Greek Cypriots surged across to the other side to visit the homes they had lost thirty years previously.

My sister Celia and I were amongst them, but unlike almost everyone else, we were denied access to our home by the sea near Snake Island in Kyrenia. A barricade blocked the road leading up to it and a sentry stood in our way. We weren’t surprised. We knew this was because our house was in a military zone and had been taken over by none other than the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash himself.

The only way we could see the house was with binoculars from St Hilarion castle. From there we could make out the tree our mother had planted and lovingly protected from the strong Kyrenia westerlies.

Snake Island, where we used to anchor and swim, had acquired a harbour, becoming a depot for the Turkish army. On Google Earth we could even see the pool we used to spend hours in. Shaped like an irregular polygon, it was the result of the inebriated scribbling on a paper napkin by a famous architect, who our father ambushed at a cocktail party (“design me a pool”) in the ’60s.

As the years passed and there didn’t seem to be any willingness amongt the political leadership on either side to solve the Cyprus problem and sort out the property issue, we decided to take things into our own hands and applied to the newly established Immovable Property Commission in the north for restitution or, failing that, compensation. We also sent word to our ‘tenant’ that we wanted to visit the house.

We heard nothing for a long time. After going through all kinds of hassles in preparing our application, such as figuring out the procedure involved, getting a decent valuation for the house, and avoiding being taken advantage of by unscrupulous lawyers, I thought it might be fun to write a book recounting our frustrations.

The Traitors’ Club, the book I finally wrote, inevitably ended up being about the much bigger frustration that all of us living on this island face, the Cyprus problem.

While I tell my own personal story – the bliss of growing up in Kyrenia, the harrowing experience of the war – I also tell the story of every Cypriot – the inconvenience of the border, the pain of the Turkish Cypriots in the ’60s, the sense of loss of the Greek Cypriots in ’74, the frustration of the years of stalemate and the dashed hope of the 2004 referendum.

The narration unfolds through the wonderful banter of a group of friends I meet up with for coffee every Saturday at the Buyuk Han, the Ottoman inn in old Nicosia. Consisting of people from both sides of the divide, they are the true heroes of the book. I wanted to share their views of the political situation, often the opposite of what the media would have us believe, but also to show how much we have in common as Cypriots. I wanted all those who, for whatever reason refuse to cross, who viewed us as traitors for going over to the other side and fraternising with the enemy, to be able through the book to get a glimpse of what a united Cyprus would look like.


A few years ago, the possibility of visiting our house arose again after a chance encounter I had at the Buyuk Han with Denktash’s son, Serdar. He told me that his father had agreed to the visit and we set a date. At the time Denktash senior was in hospital, so my sister and I and our respective families had the bitter-sweet experience of being shown around our beloved house by Serdar. I describe it all in the book.


Now, as the talks on a solution are reaching their endgame, I’m getting more and more hopeful that I will soon need to write a final chapter to my book, one that will give the story a happy ending!


The Traitors’ Club

On the surface this is the story of the author, Marina Christofides, and a group of her friends from both sides of the divide who passionately want to see Cyprus reunited. Every Saturday they meet up for coffee at the Buyuk Han, the Ottoman inn in old Nicosia, to laugh, joke, and try not to talk about politics.


Of course, politics is a subject they, like all Cypriots, cannot get away from. So more than anything this is the story of every Cypriot, who for the last 50 years or so has had to live with the Cyprus problem. One of the characters speaks for everyone when he declares, “I’m fed up with the Cyprus problem.”  


For people new to the island, this book is a must-read, conveying the island’s recent history in human terms, allowing the reader to experience what it’s like to be living with the Cyprus problem on a day-to-day basis.


Through the playful banter of the group at the Buyuk Han coffee club, the reader is taken through all the milestones of the political problem. You feel the inconvenience of the border, the euphoria when the checkpoints were opened, the pain of the Turkish Cypriots in the 60s, the sense of loss of the Greek Cypriots from the invasion, the momentary hope of the 2004 referendums and the frustration at the years of stalemate.


The plot revolves around the author’s desire to return to her house by the sea in Kyrenia. The former Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr Denktash himself took over the house two years after the invasion, living in it for 38 years until his death, twice as long as she did.


Her descriptions of growing up in Kyrenia in the 60s, as well as her experiences during the invasion are profoundly moving, beautifully written and thought-provoking, and her recent visit to the house when she and her sister were shown around by Denktash’s son, Serdar, are poignant. There are many laugh-out-loud moments, such as when her grandmother and great aunts were arrested by the Turkish army, without for a moment forgetting that this is actually all a tragedy.


Despite the comic moments that run through the book, the sadness that underlies the story is that even today the vision of reunification is not one universally shared at least amongst the Greek Cypriot community. In a warped spirit of patriotism, people like the author and her friends are seen as traitors, who are willing to compromise and accept an unfairness, an illegality, while the behaviour that brought it all about is collectively and conveniently forgotten.


The book is well-researched and raises those aspects of the island’s past that have been deliberately obfuscated from the official narratives, making it essential reading for young people who have been raised only on propaganda. So do your kids a favour, and put a copy under the Christmas tree this year. One thing’s for sure, they won’t get bored reading it, as despite the boring subject, the book is a page-turner.


bottom of page