Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920–1975

Brenda Biondo, foreword by Susan G. Solomon, afterword by Darell Hammond. UPNE/ForeEdge, $35 (184p) ISBN 978-1-61168-512-1
When photographer and writer Biondo noticed that the playground equipment her daughter played on was nothing like what she remembered from her own childhood, she embarked on a seven-year quest to find and photograph those old slides, swings, merry-go-rounds, and jungle gyms before they were relegated to the scrapyard. The resulting book includes not only Biondo’s evocative pictures but also matching catalogue pages, old photos, and turn-of-the-20th-century postcards of children climbing, hanging, swinging, and twirling on the structures. As Solomon’s foreword notes, “playgrounds were, and remain, microcosms of the values and interests of a country at a particular time.” Early playgrounds were intended for adults as well as children, “fueled by… belief that government could improve the lives of the underprivileged,” and were challenging in ways that might alarm today’s parents. Equipment gradually morphed into child-centric structures with attention shifting increasingly from “thrills” to safety, with the 1940s adding color and the ‘60s and ‘70s preoccupied with pop culture and space exploration. Although Biondo’s goal was documentation, her arresting images will appeal to fine art lovers as much as nostalgic readers. 238 color, 15 b&w illus. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/14/2014
Release date: 05/01/2014
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