Sometime in the Neolithic period, people came to live on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. We don't know for sure where these people came from. It might be West Asia, or it might be Greece, or it might even be Egypt.
Up until the Middle Bronze Age, the Cretans (KREE-tans) were doing about the same as the pre-Greek Lerna people on the mainland were doing. But when the Indo-Europeans invaded Greece about 2100 BC, they didn't know how to sail boats, and so they never conquered Crete. The Cretans, also called the Minoans, just kept on building up their civilization, making better and better pottery and stone vases and houses.
By about 2000 BC, the Cretans were building big palaces all over their island. These palaces had many small rooms around courtyards that let in the light and gave them cool places to sit (Crete gets VERY hot in the summer!). It seems likely that the Cretans got the money to pay for their palaces by working as soldiers for the Egyptians. Some Egyptian documents from around this time seem to mention the Cretans.
In 1700 BC, a terrible earthquake shook the island of Crete. All the palaces were destroyed. But the Cretans quickly rebuilt even bigger and better palaces over the top of the old ones. The biggest of these palaces is called Knossos (kuh-NOH-soss). Knossos has hundreds of rooms, many of them brightly painted with pictures showing plants and animals and people in fancy clothes dancing or talking. There are also some nice things like bathtubs and toilets with running water (but only for the queen and king).
The Cretans by now were so much stronger than their Greek neighbors that they seem to have pretty much been able to tell the Greeks what to do. Greek myths like the stories of Daedalus and Theseus seem to suggest that the Cretans even took Greek people back to Crete with them to be their slaves.
About 1620 BC a huge volcano erupted on the island of Thera, near Crete. The town of Akrotiri, on Thera, was completely buried by the mud of the volcano, and nobody could live there anymore. Maybe the ashes from the volcano also were bad for Crete, but they can't have been too bad, because the Cretans went right on living in their palaces and stomping all over the Greeks and working for the Egyptians.
These palaces seem to have done very well until about 1450 BC, when all the palaces except Knossos were destroyed by fire. Then about fifty years later, Knossos also was destroyed. This time, none of the palaces were rebuilt, and Crete became a much poorer place. We don't know who burned the palaces, but it seems likely that it was the Greeks, who had finally gotten strong enough to dominate the Cretans instead of being dominated by them.
Bibliography and further reading about the Minoans:
The Minoans, by Don Nardo (2004). For teenagers.
Archaeology of Minoan Crete, by Reynold Higgins and Rosemonde Nairac
(1973). Out of date, but Higgins is an expert on the Minoans, and this
book is specially for kids.
The Archaeology of Greece: An Introduction, by William Biers (revised edition 1996) This is NOT a children's book, but Biers writes very clearly and has a lot of good pictures. He does include Crete.
Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete, by Rodney Castleden (reprinted 1993). Castleden may exaggerate the opium use and darker sacrificial tendencies of the Minoans, but it's clear there was at least SOME opium use, and his account is more balanced than some rosier ones.