Erick Berry, The Winged Girl of Knossos (1934)
Ever since Betsy Bird put this long-lost Newbery honor book from 1934 at the top of her list of underrated middle grade books I’ve been dying to read it. And lo and behold, sometimes dreams do come true! Three years later, it’s back in print thanks to the fantastic folks at Paul Dry Books, with an afterword by Betsy herself.
Set in ancient Crete, The Winged Girl of Knossos starts out with a thrilling scene in which our heroine, Inas, goes deep sea diving for sponges — just for the fun of it, not because she needs the work — and the action doesn’t let up from there. She also takes a dramatic turn in the bull ring, helps out her friend Princess Ariadne who has inexplicably fallen for one of the boorish Greek captives, and comes to the rescue of her father Daedalus who is causing a stir with his outlandish inventions (including hang-glider-style wings that permit humans to soar with the birds). Danger abounds, but so do moments of beauty, artistry, and lyricism.
Having just done a reread of Mary Renault’s Theseus books it was interesting to revisit the mythical Crete and Knossos from another point of view. The discoveries at Knossos were quite new when the book was written, and Berry clearly enjoyed coming up with ways to put the fragments together into a cohesive and compelling narrative. She crams in more incidents, characters, and details than would probably fit in a soberly factual story, but her storytelling verve might well inspire young students to learn more about the truth behind the tale. And in the wonderfully energetic Inas, she’s created a heroine for the ages, one of the first and most memorable self-determining girls in the Newbery canon.
As an adult reader, I found myself sometimes missing a more introspective side to Inas’s adventures, and more character development than action, but at the target age range of around 9 to 12 I probably would not have sensed anything lacking. I think I would have been enchanted with this vision of a magical time and place, and would have simply loved flying, diving, sailing, adventuring, and intriguing with Inas.
Erick Berry was a pseudonym of Allena Champlin Best, who trained as an artist and illustrated most of her own books as well as those by her husband, Herbert Best. For this book, as well as several dramatic full-page illustrations, she created charming decorations drawn from Minoan artwork, all of which greatly enhance the text. The Paul Dry edition preserves these, while re-setting the text in an elegant and appropriate style. Overall, this is a rediscovery that no fan of children’s historical fiction, myth-inspired adventure stories, or Newbery-award books should miss.
8 thoughts on “New Reprint Review: The Winged Girl of Knossos”
Ancient Knossos is a fascinating place, and I had no idea that this book was written so soon after the discoveries that were made there! This definitely looks like a great read, and I love the illustrations, too! I really like the fact that they were inspired by the artwork of ancient Crete.
The illustrations are just perfect.
This sounds delightful! There are so many books I now wish could have experienced as a child. I was, of course, limited to what my public and school library had available but also, as many children do, I often re-read the same book over and over instead of seeking out new things.
We are blessed with having many books from the past being reprinted right now – so some of can discover them in adulthood, and hopefully today’s children can enjoy them as well.
I’ve never even heard of this book but Inas sounds like a great little heroine. I wonder if my library’s purchased a copy. I’ll have to see. Great review! 🙂
If the library doesn’t know about it, you might give them a little push! Paul Dry is a wonderful small indie publisher that might not be on their radar.
Sounds like a fun story. I don’t think I’ve read anything in the same setting. This might be a good one for me to count towards the Newbery Challenge. Plus, I love the idea of bringing back old books that deserve another audience.
I think it would be great for the Newbery challenge!