Young Vo’s Gibberish

h1 February 24th, 2022 by jules


“First Dat sailed on a boat, then flew on a plane, and today Dat will be on a school bus.” Dat’s world on this spread is a monochromatic one, save for him and his mother. They hold hands in front of the bus and are the only color on this, the first spread. They are also depicted realistically, though everything else on the spread is stylistically over-the-top, as if we are seeing an old animated cartoon still. This is the world of Young Vo’s Gibberish (Levine Querido, March 2022), the story of one boy’s experience navigating a new language in a new country.

Dat’s mother warns him that the language of everyone around him will sound like “gibberish.” She tells him: “Just listen, and do the best you can.” The people who speak the language Dat can’t seem to grasp are consistently depicted in a stylistic cartoon manner and in grayscale. As the review of Gibberish from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books notes, these illustrations recall George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. And when these characters, whose language is so foreign to Dat, speak to him, their speech bubble dialogue is depicted in images, not words — that is, except for the word “Dav.” (The bus driver gets Dat’s name wrong.) These choices around style, palette, and character depictions are a remarkably effective and memorable way to depict the struggles of a child in an English-speaking country whose first language is not English. Indeed, when Dat tries to read in the classroom, we read that “his words broke,” and we see them as images, tumbling from his book to the floor. (This is pictured below.)

When another student named Julie befriends Dat, slowly he begins to understand words. In these spreads, depicted as scrapbook pages, we see the use of more color in the book — and we see Julie turn from a cartoon character into a realistically depicted human child.

This thoughtfully designed book (the endpapers alone are splendid) is a powerful story about compassion and finding one’s voice. There are an increasing number of picture books about immigration, but this one stands above the rest in its brilliant and deeply felt depiction of how it feels for children just like Dat.

Here are some spreads. …



(Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety)



(Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety)


“Dat began to hear words. …”
(Click spread to enlarge)


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GIBBERISH. Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Young Vo. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Levine Querido.

One comment to “Young Vo’s Gibberish

  1. […] published in Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, February 24, 2022. Reprinted by […]

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