Thursday, October 22, 2009


Written by: Alice McLerran
Illustrated by: Barbara Cooney
Recommended Ages:

I spent last weekend in Santa Fe, which reminded me so much of the beautiful Arizona desert I grew up in. This got me thinking about one of my family's favorite picture books: Roxaboxen. Roxaboxen is a celebration of the imaginary world that children often live in, and a great reminder to adults that sometimes all a child needs is the chance to play outdoors.

Roxaboxen takes place in a desert where, at first glance, the landscape appears to be quite bare. But it is not bare to the children who live there. For them, Roxaboxen is a place that through the power of make believe, turns into a magical world. As the children outline the streets with stones, the town begins to grow and grow. There's a main street, a town hall, a bakery and two ice cream parlors. ("In Roxaboxen you can eat all the ice cream you want.") The children build houses, which start off quite plain, but take on more and more rooms as time goes on. There's a jail and a cemetery in Roxaboxen, but the only grave is that of a dead lizard.

In Roxaboxen, everybody has a car; all you need is something round for a steering wheel. But you'd better watch out, because there's a speed limit for cars and if you don't mind it, you'll end up in jail. Even better, everyone has a horse. All you need for a horse is a stick and some kind of bridle. (And there's no speed limit for people on horses!)

Barbara Cooney's illustrations lend the perfect touch to Roxaboxen. She captures the essence of the desert perfectly. In particular, I love the ocotillos with the brilliant red flowers at their tips and the colorful desert sky at sunset. It whisked me right back to my own childhood in Arizona.

You can see that Roxaboxen is a "quiet book." On the one hand, there's not a lot going on, and yet there's so much going on. I love this book because it celebrates a childhood filled with play, instead of one filled with "things." My kids all loved Roxaboxen when they were younger. I think it's a book that will inspire your kids to go outside and create an imaginary world in your backyard.

BookNosher Tidbit: Roxaboxen was based on true stories told by the author's mother about how she and her friends would play. There is a real park in Yuma, AZ dedicated to Roxaboxen. Here's a link to find out more.

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