As lovers of children's literature, we all have our favorite authors, and our favorite illustrators. I happen to love Kate DiCamillo and will read anything she writes. I will also beg the library to get any book Melissa Sweet 'decorates' the pages of. My all time favorite illustrator, though, is Barbara Cooney.
I'm not much of a collector. Sure I have a stash of yarn, and a large glass jar of washi tape, but aside from those two collections, I mostly just amass classic children's picture books. In recent years I've slowed that down, because I have a bookshelf full (and once something comes in, something else has to go out!), but have really just started honing in on a few of my very favorites. Barbara Cooney's books have found that precious real estate, and I try to collect a few every year. If I find one at the thrift store I don't currently own, I feel like I've struck gold. If, over the past year I didn't really find any, I'll order a few off amazon. Usually they're a penny a piece plus shipping, but if I can't find any for a reasonable price, I'll just buy them on prime for regular price. I think I've only had to do that once.
Roxaboxen might just be my favorite Cooney work. I think this is because not only do her illustrations shine, reflecting the simple nostalgia that a well-worn childhood exudes, but because the story that Alice McLerran wrote feels so personal and universal, and it matches the author's story so well.
The story of Roxaboxen is based on a true place. A dusty corner in the South West, it was a mound of dirt just waiting to be explored by the local children of the small town. At all different ages, the children played together to create a world that they dominated in the form of a town, a jail, a backdrop for large weeks-long games, stores, and homes. A place where children could be children, unfettered by rules, they created their own devices from the objects found in 'Roxaboxen', like old wooden crates, broken glass, stones, sticks, and spindly bushes.
It reminds me of my own childhood 'hideout'. My neighbor friends and I had a magical childhood filled with freedom, bikes roaming the neighborhood, and sack lunches; hours spent outside playing. The setting of Roxaboxen is perhaps 50 years before that, based on how the children are dressing, and the outline of faint houses found within the illustrations, but the story is nonetheless relevant to now. Kids need places where they can play, make up their own rules, create their own toys, and figure out how life works with one another, manipulating a place all for themselves.
It's such a beautiful story of childhood. It's perfect summer reading. Once you're done, go out and play!