Monday, February 10, 2014

When Childhood Wasn't Doctor-Approved

Once upon a time, playgrounds were death traps.

All right, maybe not quite that bad, but from the time the first jungle gym was installed about century ago, until 1975, children's safety wasn't exactly the first thing on parents', teachers', and certainly not playground manufacturers' minds.

Time was, you could lunge at a merry-go-round like catching a speeding train—and just as easily be flung several yards from it. A jungle gym was a gridwork of bars onto which you could project an imaginary kingdom of maneuvers—without a net to break your fall. And the slide—this thing was made of steel and was dizzyingly tall and stole your breath at the very top.

If in those days there was a greater risk of harm on these playground pieces, so was there a better chance of experiencing something called awe—of freedom in that taking risk.

But in 1975, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, reporting too many backsides splintered and bruised at the hands of a see-saw, targeted our nation's playgrounds as potentially dangerous. Overnight, safety was sent to the front of the line.

This spring, UPNE's new imprint, ForeEdge, launches with a book devoted entirely to the glory days of play. Once Upon A Playground, by Brenda Biondo, is a photographic celebration of those bygone and disappearing 20th-century structures, many of which Biondo discovered half-abandoned on disused lots and summer campgrounds, captured in vivid color for all time.

Biondo's photos evoke both a happy nostalgia and an undeniable wistfulness, especially as we take stock of the "approved," ultra-safe, plastic playgrounds of the modern era. Once Upon A Playground will inspire you on your own hunt for monkey bars to hang upside down on all over again.

Here's just a small sampling of the images that fill the book:

copyright Brenda Biondo
copyright Brenda Biondo

copyright Brenda Biondo

Although it releases in May, it's not too early to pre-order Once Upon A Playground.

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