Publisher: Philomel Books, 1990

Editor: Patricia Lee Gauch

Art Director: Nanette Stevenson


Washington State Governor's Writer's Award, 1991

Gwinna, by Barbara Helen Berger

GWINNA is the story of a girl who has wings but does not know it. When she hears a mysterious song in the wind, it fills her with longing. Led by a small white owl, Gwinna sets out on a quest, finding her wings, her own power of flight, and at last the harp she longs for. This is a girl’s initiation fairytale in chapters, with full-color art throughout.

Author’s comments:

This book was an amazing journey for me. It began as a short fairytale, and held me in its spell for three years, until I had written and illustrated a tale in 16 chapters. That’s a leap for someone who had done only picture books before. The story itself, about a girl who must discover her own wings and find her own true voice, was guiding me at the same time. I had to expand my own wings and voice as a writer. I needed Gwinna as much as she needed me.

Along the way I had to face a question about the role of conflict in a story. Gwinna’s tale was one of unfolding, rooted in a feminine wisdom, and though she has difficulties to overcome, there are no battles according to a male heroic pattern. This may be one reason why so many girls and grown women have been drawn to the story. It is about a deep creative longing, and a young girl’s power to engage in the larger mystery. It is about her own wings being unbound and healed, and allowed to carry her as far as she longs to go.

Detail from Gwinna, by Barbara Helen Berger

“She let the air carry her up, and up, in wide soaring circles…”

Reviews of GWINNA:

Publishers Weekly
August 10, 1990

In Gwinna Berger … has written and illustrated a magnificent fairy tale of wonder, beauty and power. … No brief recap of Gwinna’s plot can do justice to all its subtleties or to its profound imagery. Berger tells her long tale in simple, direct prose that illuminates its allegorical aspects with impressive clarity while keeping the action and adventure flowing smoothly. This accomplishment is especially remarkable as Gwinna is Berger’s longest text by far… In the realm of children’s fantasies, Gwinna compares with George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. With the publication of this story, Berger takes her place with the best talents in the field, past and present. …

The Horn Book Magazine
November/December 1990
p.775, “Musings” by Robert D. Hale

…[Gwinna] can’t be skipped any more than I could skip a word of Barbara Helen Berger’s tale of the enchanted girl with wings who was brought into the world to learn the secret of the wind’s song. Berger’s haunting illustrations make you want more.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Magazine
Sunday, November 25, 1990, p.9

… I can imagine no higher praise for Barbara Helen Berger’s “Gwinna”… than that of her acclaimed fellow author, Jane Yolen: “This lovely, lyrical book reinvents a classic 19th-century form – the mystical fairy tale novel. If George MacDonald were alive today, he would be a Barbara Berger”.

What is even more astonishing is that Berger is a phenomenally talented artist, creating illustrations for her books that are as lyrical as her prose. …

Chinaberry Book Service

Gwinna is a must for every child who felt nurtured by the serenity of Grandfather Twilight. As the very first fans of that book approach or are already moving into pre-adolescence, they will find Gwinna an inspiring, compassionate character who experiences, allegorically, the process of personal growth which we all must undergo.

… This is a book to give a child or friend who is realizing that life is full of peaks and valleys, of joys and sorrows, that there will always be a need to trust one’s Self. It is truly a beautiful gem of a book, on several different levels, to be cherished for an entire lifetime.

School Library Journal
Dec. 1990

[Gwinna is] a book for libraries in which the demand for fantasy is insatiable.

—Barbara Hutcheson, Greater Victoria Public Library, B.C. Canada

Folk Harp Journal
No. 70, Fall 1990, cover
from a review by Paula Lalish

Harpers know: the most musically inept of us can conjure sighs of longing from strangers, can draw children to our instruments as a candle draws moths. And most of us have found that possession of a harp changes us in deep and intangible ways. The harp is a creature full of compelling mystery; this we know.

Barbara Helen Berger certainly knows. She set out to write a children’s story about a young girl and a harp; in the three years she spent completing the tale and painting its illustrations, it grew into an allegory of human spirituality, and Barbara herself became a harper.

More than a year ago, rumors were percolating through the Pacific Northwest harp community that Barbara was working on a book about a little girl who is born with wings, who learns to fly and to play the harp. Even told in secondhand fragments, the story had the evocative quality of a favorite dream. The finished book, “Gwinna”, has that quality as well; it resonates with dream- images. …

Children’s Books

Grandfather Twilight
Grandfather Twilight

An old man made of sky goes out walking at the end of each day. In his hand, he carries a single pearl that grows with every step until, “Gently, he gives the pearl to the silence above the sea.” A classic bedtime picture book.

Read More »

The Donkey’s Dream
The Donkey's Dream

As he walks along, a donkey dreams he is carrying a city, a ship, a fountain, a rose, then a “lady full of heaven” upon his back. When the lady gives birth in a cave, she calls the donkey to her: “See what we have carried all this way, you and I.”

Read More »

A Lot of Otters
A Lot of Otters

A toddler in pajamas sails off in a box with his book, and the story in his book unfolds around him. He meets the sea otters who dive for fallen stars under the sea, carry them up and cavort with the stars, causing “such a commotion of light,” that Mother Moon looks down.

Read More »

All the Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet
All the Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet, by Barbara Helen Berger

How far is it to Lhasa? Very far. Up windy slopes, over mountain torrents and snow, a boy and his yak keep going. Will they ever reach the holy city of Lhasa? The boy doesn’t know, but an old woman has told him he can make it there before nightfall.

Read More »

Animalia, by Barbara Helen Berger

Learning to do calligraphy, I fell in love with Medieval illuminated manuscripts. I wanted to try and make one for children of our own time. I was also exploring Buddhism and Christianity and found a great compassionate heart in both. In Buddhism, this big heart includes not only human beings, but all beings, even small insects.

Read More »

The Jewel Heart
The Jewel Heart, by Barbara Helen Berger

On a small stage on the forest floor, two dolls play out their story. Gemino gives his song to Pavelle with the only voice he has, his violin, and she cannot dance without him. But one day Gemino is lost, and Pavelle sets out to find and then to fix her broken friend if she can. A story of the healing power of love.

Read More »

Angels on a Pin
Angels on a Pin, by Barbara Helen Berger

There is a famous old question: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Long-ago philosophers used to ponder that. Ideas still come from asking questions. ANGELS ON A PIN begins with one we can ask any time: What if?

Read More »

When the Sun Rose
When the Sun Rose, by Barbara Helen Berger

A magic friend comes with her lion from the yellow rose of the rising sun. She stays to play: “The lion purred. And we made rainbows all day.” At sunset, the friend must leave, but she promises to return. “Now it is dark. My friend is gone.”

Read More »

Thunder Bunny
Thunder Bunny, by Barbara Helen Berger

When old Granny says, “She came out of the blue,” Thunder Bunny wonders, “I did?” She ponders the sky where clouds come and go yet the blue is always there. “I came from the sky.” The others pooh-pooh that, but Thunder Bunny decides to jump on the wind and find out.

Read More »

Where to Find My Books

Moonlet’s book from A Lot of Otters