Written by Alice McLerran, Illustrated by Barbara Cooney
Marian called it Roxaboxen.
The plot in a nutshell: Kids build an imaginary town.
The hill across from the houses is covered with rocks and boxes and the local kids set up a town there, called Roxaboxen, with special black pebbles for money and property lines defined with stones. Each citizen is free to build whatever type of house suits them best with the available materials. Marian becomes mayor of Roxaboxen and Frances builds a jeweled house out of colored desert glass. They run their own businesses, drive their own pretend cars and ride imaginary horses as fast as they can. A lizard is buried in Roxaboxen’s cemetery and when the cactus blooms, they put flowers on the grave. Years go by and all the kids grow up, but no one forgets Roxaboxen and when Frances visits, fifty years later, her jeweled house still gleams.
This is one of those books whose title I remember from when my kids read it for the Accelerated Reader program at school, but I don’t think I had ever read it myself. And gosh, I have been missing out! Author Alice McLerran is telling a real story and you really don’t even need the author’s note in the back to tell you that. Everything about the way she talks about Roxaboxen tells you it’s real and the nostalgia for childhood is so strong while reading it that I choked up on my first read. Then, when I searched online and saw the pictures of Roxaboxen Park, which preserved the actual hill in Yuma, Arizona as a local park for kids to create their own cities, I actually cried. (I’m a sap.)
The book’s illustrations are from Barbara Cooney and they beautifully capture the time period of the book’s setting in style and detail. She chooses great moments to illustrate and gives us a real picture of what the town actually looked like, which juxtaposes against how the children see it, in Ms. McLerran’s text. I really loved this story and particularly loved the way it was told, in a perfect child’s voice, pointing out the things that would be important to a child and making Roxaboxen as magical to the reader as it was (and will always be) to the author and her family. A definite must read for those who appreciate the power of resourcefulness.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that a good imagination can build palaces more beautiful and memorable than anything the real world can offer.