Gunnella 1956- [A pseudonym] (Gudrún Elin Ólafsdóttir)

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Gunnella 1956- [A pseudonym] (Gudrún Elin Ólafsdóttir)


Born July 6, 1956, in Reykjavík, Iceland; married; children: one son. Education: Commercial College of Iceland, degree, 1974; College of Art and Craft (Iceland), degree (serigraphy), 1986. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.


Home—Garôaboer, Iceland. E-mail—[email protected].


Painter and graphic artist. Established graphics studio, c. 1986. Exhibitions: Work exhibited in solo and group exhibits in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Awards, Honors

Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books of the Year designation, 2005, for The Problem with Chickens by Bruce McMillan.


Bruce McMillan, The Problem with Chickens, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.

Bruce McMillan, How the Ladies Stopped the Wind, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.


Gunnella is a painter and illustrator who lives in Garôaboer, a small town hear Reykjavík, Iceland. A well-known artist, she entered a new phase of her creative career when she met Bruce McMillan, an American photographer and writer during an exhibition of her work. McMillan was visiting Iceland, a country to which he has returned to photograph many times, and when he discovered Gunnella's primitive-style paintings he recognized their potential. As the artist recalled on her home page, McMillan "saw my paintings … and asked me if he could write a story from them. He then took photos of many paintings, lined them up, and wrote a story around them." The story became The Problem with Chickens, a picture book that was listed among the New York Times' ten best illustrated children's books of 2005.

In The Problem with Chickens a group of women import several laying hens to their rugged rural Icelandic village, hoping to ensure a constant supply of fresh eggs for baking cakes. Unfortunately, the chickens soon decide to mimic the ways of humans and no eggs are laid, until the resourceful women engineer a unique solution to their perplexing problem. While noting that McMillan's story is "tenuous," Horn Book contributor Martha V. Parravano added that Gunnella's "distinctive" brightly colored paintings "have verve, vibrancy, and humor." Noting the "childlike humor" in the book's brightly colored images, Mary Hazelton added in School Library Journal that Gunnella is able to "convey emotion and absurdity with seemingly simple lines and expressive body language."

The stocky, apron-clad ladies from Gunnella's Icelandic village return in another adventure in McMillan's How the Ladies Stopped the Wind. Hoping to block the constant gusts of wind near their homes, the women decide to plant trees. While the egg-laying chickens help by producing fertilizer for the young saplings, the village sheep nibble away all the tender buds and leaves from the future forest, presenting a problem requiring the ladies to devise yet another clever solution. "The droll humor of Gunnella's flat oil paintings is a perfect match for [McMillan's] … wry, economical text," wrote Lauren Adams in her Horn Book review of How the Ladies Stopped the Wind, while in Kirkus Reviews a critic praised the "humor and quirky characterization" in the artist's folk-style artwork. With their "round faces, stubby legs, patterned aprons, and colorful babushkas," Gunnella's hardy Icelandic ladies "are as comforting as they are clever," concluded Booklist critic Julie Cummins.

Gunnella gets her inspiration from the Icelandic landscape and its folk-art traditions. "Our roots are very important for we Icelanders, the old houses, our grandmothers with aprons on and of course the Icelandic nature," she explained to a writer for Hús og Híbýli. "All this seems to go into my paintings in one way or the other. Sometimes I drive around and take photos of old houses that I later on use in my paintings." She also draws from her memories of family and friends, what she calls "the photo-album of my mind." "The Saga of the Icelandic people is quite amazing," Gunnella added. "It was so very difficult to survive here…. My grandparents told stories of their primitive living from their growing-up years…. I tell stories of the old-time-living but in my own way, [incorporating] … spices like flowers and trees from my garden and the powerful Snæfellsnes glacier."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, September 15, 2005, Diane Foote, review of The Problem with Chickens, p. 74; October 1, 2007, Julie Cummins, review of How the Ladies Stopped the Wind, p. 64.

Horn Book, November-December, 2005, Martha V. Parravano, review of The Problem with Chickens, p. 708; January-February, 2008, Lauren Adams, review of How the Ladies Stopped the Wind, p. 76.

Hús og Híbýli (in Icelandic), July, 2008, "Sumarhús Gunnellu" (profile of Gunnella), pp. 42-44.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2005, review of The Problem with Chickens, p. 978; September 1, 2007, review of How the Ladies Stopped the Wind.


Publishers Weekly, August 29, 2005, review of The Problem with Chickens, p. 55; July 23, 2007, review of How the Ladies Stopped the Wind, p. 67.

School Library Journal, September, 2005, Mary Hazelton, review of The Problem of Chickens, p. 177; December, 2007, Marian Drabkin, review of How the Ladies Stopped the Wind, p. 94.


Gunnella Home Page, (January 15, 2009).

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Gunnella 1956- [A pseudonym] (Gudrún Elin Ólafsdóttir)

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