another kid book recommendation

The street that I grew up on dead-ended into the playground of the local Catholic school. The school had some enormous playing fields, and beyond them (behind a car dealership and the Acme– pronounced Ac-ah-me, for those of you not from the Delaware Valley) was an acre of weeds and hillocks. I can’t tell you how many days I spent with my brothers and the other kids in our neighborhood–the T family, the H’s and the S’s–creating a society of 8-10 year-olds. There was something magical about that place, and we never saw a single adult. The PA system at the car dealership would occasionally go off, emitting a series of announcements that were not unlike the teacher from the old Charlie Brown cartoons ‘weh weh weh, weh weh weh wehweh.’

At the end of the field, beyond the acre of weeds, was an old cow tunnel under the highway. In the summer, there was always a trickle of water through it, and you had to be careful. In the winter, we’d crush the snow under our boots, and walk through the tunnel to the creek on the other side to test the ice. Once, my brother fell through the ice, and we were all terrified that he would freeze or drown. Working together, we got him out, and rushed him home to my mom, sopping wet and shivering. The bigger kids took charge, one of them running ahead to tell her we were coming. We were all in trouble that night, but it didn’t stop us from going back.

We first read Roxaboxen about a year and a half ago, when the Bee took it out of the library. It transported me back to my old neighborhood, to the parts of my hometown that were owned by kids, where adults never bothered to go. I lived in a town that had a lot of places like that, secret creeks, hidden little forests, acres on acres of farmland (although much of that farmland has been eaten by development now). Much as I love my current home, I will never know it the way that I knew my hometown, never know it from a kid’s eye view. I won’t spend hours poking sticks into the river, or finding paths through the woods.

I know that our town has those places, and one of the most fervent hopes that I have for my children is that they will have the time to find them. That they won’t be overscheduled every minute, and that they’ll have a pack of friends to run around with and elect the mayor, and ride horses made of tree branches. I’m giving the Potato this book for Christmas, and with it goes my hope that they will be as lucky as the kids in this story, as lucky as I was, in their childhood.


December 20, 2005. books for kids.


  1. Jessica replied:

    Great post and great points, LM.

  2. Doppelganger replied:

    I can’t tell you how much this entry speaks to me. I grew up on my parents’ dairy farm (till I was 14 and it was sold, anyway), at the end of a dead-end rural road, no less, and we kids would just run loose on all 100+ acres with minimal adult interference. There were barns, an orchard, a creek with a tiny footbridge, a maple sugar bush with a rundown sugar shack, fields aplenty, and of course lots of livestock. Growing up this way formed who I am, and raising Sam to be a city kid, I’m a little unsure of myself. How to give him that feeling of being an explorer, finding secret places, while living in a fairly dense, not entirely safe neighbourhood… this daunts me.

    I’ll also selfishly admit that there are books I’d like to read to my children that really spoke to me as a child — The Saturdays and The Four-Storey Mistake and Gone-Away Lake and Elizabeth Enright’s other books; Edward Eager’s books, such as Magic by the Lake; pretty much everything by E. Nesbit — and I’m worried that the universes these kids inhabit will be totally alien and uninteresting to my kids. And it makes me sad.

    Our plan, if I can call it that, is to try to make sure the mister and I wrangle at least a couple of weeks (and ideally a month or more) off work each summer and rent a cabin somewhere so that our kids can have a chance to ride bikes and build sports and go exploring and be country kids, if only for a while.

  3. Suzanne replied:

    Wow. I’m jealous. I grew up in a row house whose backyard was an alley, and I would have loved to have access to something like the place you described. I’d seek out any speck of nature I could find, which in most cases was an overgrown alleyway around the corner from me.

    I hope your kids are able to have similar experiences; as much as I want to hover over my kids and keep them safe, I also know they need private, adult-free time to play as well.

  4. Trasherati replied:

    This is exactly why we’re moving to rural Virginia in 2006. We’re building a house in the middle of the mountains/woods, on a 5-acre plot, surrounded by 100+ acres of undeveloped lovely forest and mountains. Ya’ll come visit…we’ll drink wine and let the kids build treehouses and wade in the creek. Maybe one will run across a black snake and we can be heroes!

    Can’t wait to get this book for my boys – thanks for the recommendation, landismom.

  5. Leggy replied:

    Its funny- I grew up in the city but spent summers at camp or at a friend’s place in Vermont, so had many opportunities to spend lots of time outdoors. I want to give my kids that too- but it does seem to be getting harder today to let kids out and explore. Its a challenge re: trying to give them freedom and keep them safe.

  6. elise replied:

    I live in a place where the kids can roam free, but we have black bears!! Even if I realize that the chance of them being hurt by a bear is minute, THEY are scared. That’s when I am super glad we have our dog Beau who goes exploring with them (won’t run off). He makes them feel safe and they do go down to the creek and have fun. The only adult rule is “always stick together”. You know sort of military “no one left behind”!! So glad they have this experience, its super important to me too.

  7. Kdubs replied:

    I’m lovin’ your blog!

  8. The Scarlett replied:

    I grew up in a town that had two stop-lights (the second one arrived when I hit double digits) and we had all manner of secret, dangerous places (a train trestle, hidden paths to the creek, a creepy graveyard) and to tell you the truth it is amazing that none of us were molested or hurt while roaming without adults.

    We’ve given our own children a neighborhood in which they can safely roam a bit with autonomy. But my kids will probably have different memories … but different is still okay, in my opinion.

  9. Mere replied:

    Ah yes, the days when we were young and curious. We had the same sort of places when I was a kid. Lots of memories – hope my kids find the same places around in our neighborhood too.

  10. newsucnuse replied:

    You know, I grew up in suburbia with not much in the way of wide open spaces where adults never roamed, but there is still something magical about childhood that invests seemingly ordinary places with extraordinary powers over us – precisely because we’re young and open to their magic.

    I have some wonderful memories from childhood explorations with my friends that involve mostly riding our bikes without hands down the neighborhood’s best hills, or expertly maneuvering the cracks in the sidewalk. I, too, plan on making sure my girls have enough unstructured time in their childhood to just explore the world around them.

    Great, thought-provoking post…..

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