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Once Upon a Playground
A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920–1975
Brenda Biondo; Susan Solomon, fwd.; Darell Hammond, afterword

2014 • 188 pp. 247 illus. (236 color) 8 1/2 x 11"
Historical Photography / Americana / 20th Century U.S. History

$29.95 Hardcover, 978-1-61168-512-1

“Although Biondo’s goal was documentation, her arresting images will appeal to fine art lovers as much as nostalgic readers.”—Publishers Weekly

A nostalgic look at a world of play almost forgotten

Before today’s safety-minded structures of wood and plastic, America’s playgrounds were full of tottering seesaws, dizzying merry-go-rounds, and towering metal slides.

Documenting the evolution of American playgrounds between 1920 and 1975, Once Upon a Playground is a visual tribute to these iconic structures, celebrating their place in our culture and the collective memories of generations. In it, contemporary photos of vintage pieces of playground equipment are juxtaposed with images of the very same pieces as they were shown in classic catalogs, postcards, and photographs. The result is a haunting time capsule showing a rapidly vanishing part of our country’s cultural heritage.

Whatever the playgrounds of your childhood looked like, the gorgeous photographs in this book will transport you back in time and remind you of just how important play can really be.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

"Writer/photographer Biondo's visually appealing book of photographs provides a healthy dose of nostalgia for lunchtime recesses and summer mornings spent on monkey bars and jungle gyms. She structures her book so that playthings appear chronologically; every two decades share a chapter, from the 1920s until the 1970s. A foreword by playground historian Susan Solomon and an afterword by Kaboom! founder Darell Hammond offer historical and contemporary context, respectively. Images from archival catalogs and pamphlets, as well as a few historical pictures, portray children at play on evolving playground structures. The bustling scenes from the play equipment companies' promotional materials serve as a foil for the modern-day photographs of many of these "antique" playgrounds, all of which are empty, no children in sight. In several of the images, contemporary play equipment in plastics and bright colors have been installed alongside the older, faded metal structures; readers can see clearly how approaches to children's play spaces have evolved over time. VERDICT This book is both a reminiscence as well as a fitting commentary on our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and a surging preference for techno-centric activities.”—Library Journal

"Where did all the high slides go? Ten years ago, Colorado photographer Brenda Biondo was at a local playground with her baby daughter and realized the equipment looked a lot different from what she remembered. As she visited other parks, she rarely found the traditional metal slides, monkey bars and seesaws of her youth. When she did, she took pictures. That search turned into a larger project, in which Ms. Biondo traveled to different states photographing old playground equipment. The results are in her new book, Once Upon a Playground. —Wall Street Journal

"Brenda Biondo documents vintage playground equipment in Once Upon a Playground, her book about the disappearing metal slides, swings and other rides beloved by Baby Boomers."
Denver Post

“Once Upon a Playground celebrates the playgrounds that sprung up across the nation between 1920 and 1975. The book includes more than 160 contemporary photographs, along with vintage images and a forward by playground historian Susan G. Solomon."—Colorado Springs Gazette

“Snapped from emotive perspectives, and dripping in bold hues, the portraits transform equipment into anthropomorphized characters, and send us back in time to the days when a rusted basketball hoop sent us into a fit of elation.”Huffington Post

Biondo contributes a visually engaging overview of the development of playgrounds over time in the United States. Her photos capture the essence of both the form and function of these play elements, providing a unique archival perspective. As society moves on into a highly technical world, it becomes extremely important that Americans remember and appreciate the role that playgrounds had and still have in our culture.”—American Journal of Play

“Brenda Biondo’s photographs capture the sculptural beauty and creativity of the vintage apparatuses, as well as that feeling of nostalgia you get when you see a piece of your childhood.”—
Collectors Weekly

“This book is a beautiful reminder of my own 1950s childhood and of a stretch of time when children played freely, with no adults hovering, in ways that built their hearts, muscles, coordination, creativity, emotional resilience, and social competence. The playground in every village and every city neighborhood was, for decades, the magnet that drew children together and cemented friendships.  Thank you, Brenda Biondo, for these beautiful photographs, this walk down one path of American history, and this reminder that we need, now, to find modern ways of restoring children’s opportunities for exciting, self-directed, outdoor play with other children.”—Peter Gray, research professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

Once Upon a Playground is a treasure hunt for the playgrounds that time forgot. The spaces and apparatuses of play have much to teach us about who we were—and what childhood meant—in the long American mid-century. Brenda Biondo’s combination of period images from postcards, archives, and catalogs with her own, often-haunting, contemporary photographs admonishes us to learn from, to not forget, to preserve what remains of these unique landscapes of play.”—Paige Johnson, founder of PlayScapes (

BRENDA BIONDO is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Denver Post, USA Weekend magazine, and many other publications. Her photography has been exhibited all over the country, and images from her playground series are in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress. A native New Yorker, Biondo lives in Colorado with her husband and two children.

SUSAN G. SOLOMON, a playground historian, is the author of The Science of Play: How to Build Playgrounds that Enhance Children’s Development (forthcoming, UPNE) and American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space.

DARELL HAMMOND is the founder and CEO of KaBOOM! and coauthor of How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play.

A percentage of author royalties will be donated to KaBOOM! (, a national playground nonprofit.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:07:56 -0500