“Our house is a very very very fine house”

-- Graham Nash (1970)

“Unstructured play allows children the freedom to explore, create and discover without predetermined rules or guidelines. It’s been shown to foster cognitive development while boosting physical development and social and emotional development. It specifically helps creativity and imagination, problem-solving abilities and social skills.”

-- from “Why Unstructured Play is Important to Child Development”

“The street between Roxaboxen and the houses curved like a river, so Marian named it the River Rhode. After that you had to ford a river to reach Roxaboxen.

Of course all of Marian’s sisters came: Anna May and Frances and little Jean.

Charles from next door, even though he was twelve,

Oh, and Eleanor, naturally, and Jamie with his brother Paul.

Later on there were others, but these were the first.

Well, not really the first.

Roxaboxen had always been there

and must have belonged to others, long before.”

Do you remember playing house or store in an empty appliance box? How about drawing twisting chalk-lined paths to follow in the street? Or imagining the one-time cottage that is now just an outline of rotting wood in a vacant lot?

Children’s book author Barbara Cooney (1917-2000) is best remembered for writing and illustrating MISS RUMPHIUS (1982), for which she won a National Book Award; and for illustrating OX-CART MAN (1979) by Donald Hall, for which she won the Caldecott Medal. Both are not-to-be-missed classics.

But my favorite work of Barbara Cooney’s is ROXABOXEN, which was written by the late Alice McLerran

Roxaboxen was a real place. Thanks to the popularity of this book, that real place is now a public park--Roxaboxen Park in Yuma, Arizona.

Inspired by that place that once existed--when the author’s mother was young--the spirited tale of Roxaboxen is a marvel of creative play in which, across the street from their real houses, a bunch of kids transform undeveloped desert land into an imaginary play world. In order to do this, they utilize old wooden boxes, pieces of pottery, and desert glass. Large stones are used for outlining the streets and property lines, and long sticks become horses.

“Everyone had a car.

All you needed was something round for a steering wheel.

Of course, if you broke the speed limit you had to go to jail.

The jail had cactus on the floor to make it uncomfortable, and Jamie was the policeman.

Anna May, quiet little Anna May, was always speeding -- you’d think she liked to go to jail.”

ROXABOXEN is not your typical picture book for older readers--one containing sophisticated concepts and vocabulary. Nevertheless, the cooperative play and wonderfully complex imaginative-play scenarios depicted here will be equally of interest to many elementary school-aged children as well as to preschoolers.

ROXABOXEN, which I shared back in the Nineties with my preschool students and my own children, and now read aloud to my grandchildren, is one that has remained a favorite of mine from one young generation to the next.

32 pages                                978 0-688-07592-4                          Ages 4-8

Keywords:  imagination, playing, nature, country life, friends, friendship, 4 year old, 5 year old, 6 year old, 7 year old, 8 year old

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California, USA

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