I grew up in the desert. Playing outside has its own feel when outside is dirt and rock and cactus. I remember throwing dirt clods and catching lizards and sprinting down to the corner in my bare feet because the house on the corner had soft, cool grass even in the summer. Reading Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney made me nostalgic for that childhood.
The book is a tribute to an actual place: the magical world the author’s aunt, mother, and friends created growing up in Yuma, Arizona. She writes a little about it here, including detailing how Barbara Cooney came up with such fantastic illustrations. The illustrations leave me longing for a hot, dry desert night right at sunset. Good news: you do not need to be a desert rat like me to enjoy the book.
At its heart, this is a book about childhood play. It’s about the games children create and the way their imaginations create beauty and magic wherever they are free to explore. It reminds me of the fairy potions my friend and I used to concoct in the summers. I hear echoes of the same magic when my own children create a rocket ship out of chairs and go on adventures in our backyard. On the site I linked above, the author talks about Roxaboxens that have cropped up all over the world.
This is not the favorite book of any one of my three children. It’s not as funny as Elephant and Piggie or as lilting as Dr. Seuss. The older two will sit through the entire thing, though, which is a testament to its appeal. And more than once, I have found myself reading it again after they’ve wandered off to play.
I would recommend this to: anyone who is in the market for picture books, but especially those who grew up in the desert or spent hours outside as a child.