The Winged Girl of Knossos, by Erick Berry

Thanks to Betsy at Fuse #8 who has been mentioning it as a favorite for years* The Winged Girl of Knossos was for many years a title I looked for in used bookstores....I never found it, and since it was long out of print, I wondered if I'd ever get the chance to read it.  Now it is back in print (Paul Dry Books July 2, 2017), and I have read it, and I have found it good.

Inas is the daughter of the great Cretan inventor Daedalus.  She fills her life with daring adventure, free diving down to harvest sponges for fun, taking part in the bull dances, which involve doing dangerous gymnastics with a live bull.  And she is the test piolet for her father's most recent project--gliders.  Gliding practice has to be done in secret, because it smacks of sorcery to ordinary creatures, but Inas relishes her chances to soar like a bird (before crashing....).

When a young Greek, Theseus, arrives at the court of King Minos as tribute for the bull dancing, she becomes involved in the most serious adventure of her life.  Princess Ariadne enlists her in a plan to help Theseus escape...and that sets in motion a chain of events that ends in Inas and her father having to flee Crete to save their own lives (and yes, the gliders come into the story, taking the place of the wax wings Daedalus built for Icarus in the original story).

Inas is a young heroine to cheer for, with her indefatigable energy and her plucky determination.  She's not the most introspective or thoughtful heroine going, though, and I enjoyed, but didn't much emotionally connect with, her adventures.  The action is brisk, the Cretan setting fascinating, and it is fascinating as well to see a familiar myth told from a brand new perspective.  It's a great story for middle grade readers who love myth-infused adventures (though the gods themselves aren't players in the story).  Don't expect any fantasy elements; there is nothing here that couldn't be real.  But if you are looking for an adventurous vacation in ancient Crete, this is the book for you!

Erick Berry was a pseudonym of Allena Champlin Best; she was an illustrator as well as a writer, and her original illustrations, based on the actual art of the Minoans, adds lots to the atmosphere in my opinion, which being that of an archaeologist, tends towards appreciation of illustrations based on the originals....

*I poked around to see if I could find the earliest recommendation from Betsy I could.  The earliest link, from this post at A Chair a Fireplace and a Teacozy back in 2007 when there was a weekly (?) round-up of overlooked books in the Kidlitosphere no longer works, but I found this quote from 2008 preserved at the much loved and deeply mourned blog Collecting Children's Books:

“This is only a mystery in the sense that I can't figure out why it isn't available or in print. The Newbery Honor winner The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry is perhaps one of the best American children's books out there. Try finding it sometime, though. Rare doesn't even begin to describe it. If you do get a chance to read it, it's pip. I believe it won the honor in 1929. Fingers crossed that it gets its due someday.”

The Collecting Children's Books post adds to Betsy's endorsement, and is interesting reading in its own right!  Peter, the blogger whose site it was, mentions that were "overtly offensive racial references" in the original, but I did not come across any that registered in my read, so they seem to have been removed.

Final answer: I don't really think this is one of the best American children's books there is, but it's a good, quick read, and the right kids (interested in archaeological mysteries, liking stories of physical pursuits of an adventurous kind, liking brave girls to cheer for)  will love it.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. I admit I am baffled by some books that go out of print. It's nice that this one was reprinted. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. I'm glad this was reprinted, though I agree it's not one of the best American books ever -- and I definitely think the illustrations are essential to its appeal. Wondering how my son will like it (he studies Ancient Greece this year).


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