Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Adults, perhaps even more so than children, will enjoy this detailed, beautifully written account of a place in the Arizona desert where children's imaginations ran wild.
Author Alice McLerran based this book on events in her mother's life and Roxaboxen actually exists on a hill in the southeast corner of Eighth Street and Second Avenue in Yuma. McLerran consulted her mother's childhood manuscripts, letters and maps created by the former inhabitants of Roxaboxen,and interviewed relatives to get the information she ultimately wove into a rich tale of the joys of childhood.
Illustrator Barbara Cooney actually made two trips to Roxaboxen and, accompanied by McLerran's Aunt Frances, began to visualize "the magic and spirit of Roxaboxen" that helped her create the pictures that capture the spirit of childhood creativity and fantasy that came alive each time Roxaboxenites gathered on that small hill.
Roxaboxen chronicles the creation of an imaginary community on a small rise in the desert. Their children created streets, stores, homes, a jail, a town hall, and even a cemetary in their tiny town and continued to play there until they were grown. They use anything at their disposal - pebbles, sticks, stones, glass, wooden boxes, pieces of pottery - they made use of everything they found in the great outdoors.
I experienced a bittersweet feeling reading about 11 and 12-year olds playing outside with the younger children with complete abandon. Memories of my own neighborhood adventures came flooding back - what a wonderful time we had on the cul-de-sac of 210th Street! We lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles, but we created our own little world every day, miniature versions of adult life with a creative, unrelentingly optimistic flair.
I particularly love the end of the story when the author shares glimpses of the grown inhabitants of Roxaboxen - Marian's children falling asleep to stories of life in Roxaboxen, Charles picking up a pebble on the beach and remembering - McLerran creates a cocoon of warmth around her mother's memories that envelopes the reader and creates a longing to return to childhood, if only for a day.
There's an out-of-print non-fiction companion to this book titled The Legacy of Roxaboxen that contains copies of McLerran's mother's (Marian) original writings and drawings of the world of Roxaboxen. I know I'll be looking for it in every library I visit.