Review of Gibberish

Gibberish Gibberish
by Young Vo; illus. by the author
Primary    Levine Querido    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-1-64614-110-4    $17.99

Dat, the young Asian protagonist of this involving picture book, has traveled far to reach his new country and is about to start his first day of school. His mother warns, “When people speak it will sound like gibberish,” and encourages him to listen and do the best he can. Dat eagerly dives in, but he is quickly overwhelmed by the constant barrage of incomprehensible babble “in his books and in the air.” In the schoolyard, he is surprised by one of his classmates, who is also taking a moment apart from the group. She grabs him by the hand and shows him how to seesaw and jump rope (the international language of child’s play!). Back in class, the interminable day drags on, but on the bus ride home, the girl ­reappears. She pulls out paper and markers, and they begin to draw together. Vo, who was himself a child refugee from Vietnam, does a brilliant job of conveying the disorientation and alienation that children face in these situations, and does so as much with his mixed-media and digital art as he does with his spare text. Dat is depicted as a vibrant, fully realized, full-color figure, who is thrust into a black-and-white world filled with exaggerated and sometimes surreal cartoon monsters. The “gibberish” appears as lengthy strings of emoji-like drawings, with each letter of the alphabet having a distinct icon. A creative and effective dramatization of the plight of new language learners.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Luann Toth
Luann Toth

Luann Toth is a former reviews editor at School Library Journal. She holds an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh.

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