Gwinna A Girl Who is Made of the Earth

As a girl, I had always felt a strong infinity towards nature and the outdoors.  My parents had acres of wild woods that bordered our manicured backyard.  My girlfriends and I would run straight from the bus stop to the iron wrought gates that led to the “back-forty,” crawling through the twisted branches to our secret places.  Only the impending darkness and the calls of our mothers for dinner would lure us out of the special places we had made deep in the woods. 

Barbara Helen Berger

Sometimes when my girlfriends were off with their families I would sneak into the woods by myself, grasping under my arm a story that was as a part of me as my own heart.  Gwinna, by Barbara Helen Berger, is a story about a girl who is made of the Earth. 

Gwinna is a dramatic fairy tale about a lonely couple who desperately want a child but cannot conceive.  They go to Mother Owl in the forest to ask for guidance and she grants them a baby girl but with a catch—they must return her on her 12th birthday.  As you can guess, Gwinna’s parents refuse to return her to Mother Owl and the story unfolds into a twisting tale of self-discovery and respect of nature. 

Gwinna has a special connection to all living things, for she is a being of the forest.  I would spend endless hours pretending to be Gwinna, imagining I had to power to draw all the creatures of the forest to my lap.  Her respect and connection to nature gives her an unique glow, which can be seen from the Berger’s beautiful illustrations.  I was captivated by Gwinna—I even wrote a letter to Ms. Berger to ask how she thought of Gwinna, where she came from?  Even more cherished than my copy of Gwinna was the letter I received back from the author, which I read aloud to my third grade class and my mother had framed to hang above my bed.  Ms. Berger explained that Gwinna came to her unexpectedly and her story was as organic as the forest around me—she had little control over the tale of Gwinna, it flowed from her fingers like water from a stream.  This made Gwinna even more real to me and I resolved to live as Gwinna, bond to nature with undying respect and love. 

I often think of Gwinna when I’m alone in nature, soaking up the solitude and peacefulness of mother earth.  Although I wasn’t born from Mother Owl like Gwinna, I feel the same tie to nature and I’ve stayed true to that instinct.  I often wonder about Ms. Berger, as many of her books have gone out of print, including Gwinna.  I have unending appreciation for the story and Ms. Berger because it had immense impact on my childhood, urging me to explore the wildness of nature and respect its power.   I truly believe that had I not read Gwinna, I might not have chosen the same path in life.  This is a true example of the power of a book to influence the heart and mind. 

Connecting Children to Nature Through American Literature: 1890 - Today Exhibit web site

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