Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book #305: Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Image from
“Marian called it Roxaboxen. (She always knew the name of everything).”

What’s a Roxaboxen you might ask? It may have looked like a rocky hill in the desert covered with sand and rocks, old wooden boxes, cactus and thorny ocotillo, but Roxaboxen was always there, waiting for children to find it. Marian and her friends dug up round black pebbles and these became the currency of the town of Roxaboxen. Marian was the mayor, of course, and everyone helped to line Main Street with white stones. Along this street small houses took form, outlined in stone. The wooden boxes became tables, chairs or anything else they pleased. In the winter no one would go to Roxaboxen for weeks, but when the weather turned warm the population of Roxaboxen would soar. Eventually, the children grew up and moved away, but that wasn’t the end of Roxaboxen because not one of them ever forgot.

This story, based on events that happened during McLerran’s mother’s childhood in Yuma, Arizona, celebrates the powerful and vivid imaginations of children. The story is magical, but told in the matter-of-fact tone of a child. The unnamed narrator, who speaks in third person past tense, clearly loves Roxaboxen and that reverence shines through the text. Cooney’s illustrations bring the desert setting to life. The mountains loom in the distance while plants of the desert cover the foreground. I especially love the illustration that shows the children standing in the cactus “jail” because they have been caught speeding (in their imaginary cars). Behind this humorous scene the sunset has colored the sky and hills pink and purple. The children are dressed in old-fashioned clothes (I'm guessing the book is set in the 1920's or 30's), but their imaginative activities are timeless. The book finishes with a note about the inspiration and creation of this book. You can read more about the real Roxaboxen on McLerran’s website.

Use chalk or stones to create a Roxaboxen of your own (check out the photos on the Love Learning Blog). Wooden boxes are great if you have them, but cardboard boxes or plastic milk crates are just as fun. Cardboard is especially nice because kids can use markers to make signs. Have kids draw a map of the town and label the shops, streets, and other places of interest. Follow up by reading The Once Upon a Time Map Book for a lesson on map reading. Check out the 4th grade lesson plan from the Arizona Geographic Alliance that includes specific instructions on using this book to create a map of Roxaboxen as depicted in the book.

Bring out a map of the United States and have the kids find Yuma, Arizona. Bring in non-fiction books about the desert, such as Desert Digits: An Arizona Number Book and G is for Grand Canyon: An Arizona Alphabet, to learn more about the climate, plants, and animals. Try pairing this book with poems from Pat Mora’s This Big Sky

I’ve never been to Yuma, Arizona, but if I ever make a trip there I’ll be sure to stop by Roxaboxen Park located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 8th street. If Arizona is too far away, take a virtual tour of the park thanks to Bill and Kathie.

Many thanks to Chris for bringing this book to my attention! 



  1. do you know the lesson and climax of the story

    1. #1Mom,
      I'm not sure there's a "lesson" in a strict sense. However, there are themes of imagination, play, and community. As far as a climax, I would say that the children growing up and moving on could be considered to fulfill that requirement. However, this book is more of a memory piece that evokes a time and place, rather than a story that sticks to the standard structure.

      Hope that helps!