I want to quote some reviews about this book, so it won't just be me bragging about it. A Kirkus pointer review said, "Many books memorialize imaginative play in the hope of inspiring a new generation, but rarely with so much creative and evocative power." A starred review in Booklist called it "memorable ... A celebration of the transforming powers of the imagination . . . an original." The history of Roxaboxen Marian wrote when she was 11 made it clear she expected that special hill to be loved forever, and I like to feel that her own book and my later one may contribute to make something like that possible.

The words I wrote to tell about this memorable place created by  children were published as a book in 1991 with luminous illustrations by Barbara Cooney.  Before she began the art this justly-famous artist learned - as I myself had done before I began to write the text --  just about everything  possible about Roxaboxen --  from my mother’s handwritten 1916 book,  from all the information I had my aunts and others still alive who had played there -- and of course from my own memories of what my mother had told me when she was alive.  I took the photo to the left just before Barbara and my aunt Frances left for a trip together to Yuma -- where the artist had her first glimpse of Roxaboxen, with Frances there to tell her about all they did back then. During that trip the two became real friends.  My aunt was thrilled to discover when the book came out that Barbara had dedicated the art in it  “to my Roxaboxen guide, Tahe.  (Although I call her by her given name in the book, “Tahe” was the nickname all her friends and family used.)  “At last I’ll get some respect from my grandchildren!”  this beloved aunt told me happily.

          Is Roxaboxen still there?

You bet it is.  And far from the hill itself, children in Korea, Pakistan and Japan  now dream of Roxaboxen too; the story is available  editions translated into their languages.  But almost as soon as the book came out, children in Yuma itself read it and realized that the hill it told about was right in their own town.  It didn’t look the way it had then -- a contractor who owned it at that point had tried to scrape it flat with a bulldozer and had done a lot of damage to its profile, scraping away the mounds of sandy soil that held “Roxaboxen money” as it tried to flatten the hill into a buillding lot.  But the bulldozer had to give up -- underneath the sandy part the whole hill was solid granite, of which the outcrop that became Fort Irene back in 1915 was only the top of the iceberg.  Even though the top was hard and flat now, the kids that lived in that neighborhood didn’t care. They knew it was Roxaboxen, and soon new roads and houses began appearing. A grownup who loved the story must have started collecting desert glass, for one morning the kids found a heap sand-polished pieces of glass in glowing colors there in the middle of the hill, letting them make jeweled windows. Saved from  danger of development by a Yuma-based organization called the Friends of Roxaboxen, the hill is now owned by the city of Yuma and preserved as a natural desert park; a “playground for the imagination where children today can build houses .  My siblings, cousins, and some of those who built the original community helped raise funds at the Roxaboxen Festivals organized by the Friends of Roxaboxen.  Roxaboxen is still there and will continue to be -- and you will find its exact location given on a page at the back of the book!

A photo taken at the first Roxaboxen Festival

shows the book-signing table, with  Marian’s

close friend is sitting with me, and my aunt Jean

behind us.  “Little Jean” the book calls her,

although she grew to be the tallest of the sisters.

We all signed copies of the books sold at the

Festival on the lawns of the Yuma Library,

where there were games, fishing for prizes,

races, mud pie contests, sales of Roxaboxen

t-shirts and hats, etc. as well as cold drinks and

home-cooked foods, and music by local

musicians.The profits  from activities and sales

went to save that special hill, which indeed will

always be there. 

The opening of Roxaboxen Park took place in 2000, and was recorded by my cousin Bill with photos.  His mother Jean -- the youngest  and last of the Doan sisters, would have liked to be there, but was by then too frail to travel.  She sent her great-granddaughter Hannah to represent her, sending with her something Jean had taken from the hill when she moved away from Yuma as a memento.  Now Jean wanted to return it to the hill.   As part of the opening ceremony, Hannah placed what Jean was returning -- one of the special black pebbles that were the money of Roxaboxen -- atop Fort Irene, the outcrop of granite that was the girls’ safe base in the war between the boys and the girls year ago.  Like Jean, I was unable to attend  (I was visiting schools in Illinois at that point) but thanks to my cousin Bill, I can always be there in my imagination.  He made a special page on his own website showing this and other photos from that day.  You can see them by clicking here .

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