Ikoyenia, or family, is a word describing the basic social unit in Greek society. It is also the title of a bilingual, four-part children’s books series written by Adelaide based Greek-Cypriot mum and journalist, Stephanie Timotheou.
“As a journalist I am always writing, but most of the time writing for a newspaper doesn’t allow you to completely unleash your creative flair. When I found out I was pregnant in 2018, I started searching for a sentimental book I could give to my mum and mother-in-law about being a yiayia (grandmother).
“I couldn’t find the perfect book, so I decided I would write one of my own. ‘Cooking with Yiayia’ is a tribute to them, as well as my own yiayiathes,” Mrs Timotheou told The Greek Herald shortly before the release of the first part of her Ikoyenia stories.
Cooking with Yiayia, is a bilingual rhyming book about one little Greek girl and the bond she has with her Yiayia through cooking. The book is written in English and Greek to encourage children to learn the language.
“Without our heritage, who are we?”
Having grown close to her own grandmothers and in deep connection with her Cypriot roots, Mrs Timotheou wants to pass on the love for her culture to her daughter Anthea.
“My biggest fear is that when our grandparents and parents are gone, nobody is going to carry on our beautiful culture and traditions. I think it’s important to maintain and preserve our heritage because without it, who are we?
“Geographically we are so far away from Greece and Cyprus and it’s easy to lose sight of where we came from, so I think, more than ever, we need to keep our culture well and truly alive,” Timotheou said.
“To me, ikoyenia is home. It’s heart, soul and passion. It’s love, loyalty and a sense of belonging. It’s a very special thing that can’t be replaced.
“If my books can bring people together through storytime, my job is done. There’s nothing like a physical book, especially in this day and age where we are so consumed by technology. I think books bring people back into the present, real world and they are something we all need in our lives.”
The self-taught illustrator who brought the book to life
In the Ikoyenia book series, Stephanie’s written text is decorated with the simplistic family characters who were brought to life by Australian self-taught illustrator, Rachel Darling.
“For the most part, all of the characters wear happy little smiles, as they enjoy their family time with each other. I’ve really enjoyed bringing that feeling to life through these characters and illustrations,” said Darling, explaining that her only connection with the Greek culture are her many Greek friends, a summer holiday in Greece and a bit of Greek language learning back in Primary School.
“I’ve always loved Greek food and had a fascination with Greek mythology, which I really enjoyed learning more about in Greece last year,” she said.
*The three books to follow are Gardening with Pappou, Playtime with Baba and Bedtime with Mama. You can order the books here: https://www.ikoyenia.com.au