Publisher: Philomel Books, 1990
Editor: Patricia Lee Gauch
Art Director: Nanette Stevenson
Washington State Governor's Writer's Award, 1991
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.
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.
Reviews of GWINNA:
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
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
[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. …