FICTION

The Playgrounds of Babel

Groundwood. Aug. 2019. 32p. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781773060361.
COPY ISBN
K-Gr 4–This truly unique picture book tells a version of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel as an explanation of how languages came to be. The story is cleverly framed by Lawson (Sidewalk Flowers) as a tale woven on a playground by an old woman in a kerchief. A black child translates this story to a white child, and the entire text is made up of their dialogue. The translator explains that one’s belief in God or lack thereof is irrelevant when it comes to the story, as long as one has imagination. The woman’s story continues to tell of two friends (a black girl and white girl) who suddenly find themselves unable to communicate. They eventually learn that they still share the language of touch, emotion, and song. Grobler’s illustrations depicting the story within the story bring light and color onto the pages, while the world of the storyteller is stark, gray, and gloomy. Eventually, color comes into present day via a vivid orange sunset behind the dark city buildings. The images are highly textured and multidimensional, layering collaged buildings with drawn and painted images of different weights and levels of detail. The Babel story is depicted in a folk-art style. The dragon (not a feature of the original story) is yellow, winged, and scaly, and God appears feminine, shown beneath a blue crown and robe.
VERDICT A lighthearted, child-centric framing of a biblical story told without any religious emphasis, housed in a package that is quite exquisite

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