cover image Gwinna


Barbara Helen Berger. Philomel Books, $24.99 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-399-21738-8

In Gwinna, Berger (Grandfather Twilight; The Donkey's Dream; When the Sun Rose) has written and illustrated a magnificent fairy tale of wonder, beauty and power. Gwinna, an en chanted child with wings growing from her back, is given as a fosterling to a childless human couple by the Mother of the Owls. As Gwinna grows, her foster parents try to hide her wings, then refuse to honor their promise to return her, but the Mother of the Owl's magic is too strong for them and Gwinna is summoned to her true home. There she learns to fly and sets off on a mystical quest across the sea to an ice-capped mountain, where she fulfills a lifelong dream by carving herself a harp and learning to play it. 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 smooth ly. This accomplishment is especially remarkable as Gwinna is Berger's lon gest text by far; in her earlier, shorter work, she has relied on her shimmer ing acrylic paintings to create the ethereal mood that is her trademark. Happily, Berger has not stinted on the pictures here either. Gwinna is graced with 18 full-page paintings, one two- page painting and many smaller in sets and decorations that capture the action's high points. In the realm of children's fantasies, Gwinna com pares with George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin and C. S. Lew is's Chronicles of Narnia. With the publication of this story, Berger takes her place with the best talents in the field, past and present. Ages 6-up. (Oct.)