Miss Rumphius, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney
Size: approximately 20.5 x 25 cm
Published: 1985 (1st published in 1982)
Award: Winner of the American Book Award
This wonderful picture book opens with a young Alice Rumphius sitting with her grandfather and being enchanted by his stories of far away places. Inspired by the example that he sets, the young Alice declares that she too wants to travel to faraway places and to live by the sea when she grows old. Her grandfather tells her that there is also a third thing that she must do, although he doesn't actually tell her how ... she must make the world more beautiful. It is this last task that proves to be the most difficult of all. At the conclusion of the book, she presents the same challenge to her own great-niece, who is the narrator of the story.
As Jenna Caputo from Teaching Children Philosophy says, "Prominent in this book is the topic of what gives a life meaning, which by its nature is very personal. After exploring the possibilities through firsthand life experiences, a person must decide what their mark will be on the world will be. This is probably why the characters in Miss Rumphius found it so important to travel the world. Itís a metaphor for having a wide range of life experiences. The author believes that through those life experiences we are in the best position to discover some experience that enriches our lives and, if we are lucky, the lives of others."
I am reminded of Walter Benjamin's quote, "To live is to leave traces."
(Please see the reviews, below, for greater insight into this beautiful story about leaving the world a little better for having lived.)
About the Author:
Barbara Cooney (August 6, 1917 Ė March 10, 2000) was a prolific American children's author and illustrator of more than 200 books, and was a double Caldecott Medalist. She wrote books for six decades, with her books being translated into 10 languages. Of her 200 books, she has stated that Miss Rumphius, Island Boy, and Hattie and the Wild Waves, were the closest to her heart, as they were as near as she would ever come to an autobiography.
For the home educators and unschoolers among us, I thought I'd include this insightful quote of Barbara Cooney's, speaking about her mother:
"She gave me all the materials I could wish for and then left me alone, didnít smother me with instruction. Not that I ever took instruction very easily. My favorite days were when I had a cold and could stay home from school and draw all day long.... She was an enthusiastic painter of oils and watercolors. She was also very generous. I could mess with her paints and brushes all I wanted. On one condition: that I kept my brushes clean. The only art lesson my mother gave me was how to wash my brushes. Otherwise, she left me alone."
Publisher: Picture Puffins
"This is one of those rare picture books that is so beautiful and so wise that you ought to read it even if you don't have children. But if you have a child to share it with, do so immediately, and consider yourself privileged.
In this book, you watch a little girl named Alice grow into an old, old woman, a retired librarian, named Miss Rumphius. Her life is filled with exciting adventures, but as she grows older, none of it feels like enough to her. She keeps recalling some advice her grandfather gave her when she was a child. He told her that in order to live a good life, she had to "do something to make the world more beautiful." But even as an old woman, she can't figure out what to do. Finally, realizing the joy she's always gotten from flowers, especially lupines, she decides to share that joy with others by scattering lupine seeds everywhere she goes. She completely transforms the rocky landscape around her home. In the end, she tells her story to her young niece, who wonders how SHE will make the world more beautiful. And so the cycle continues.
My daughter, who is six, has talked about this book several times, and told me she hasn't yet figured out how she is going to make the world more beautiful. But the fact that she is thinking about it at such a young age makes me proud, and very happy to have found this lovely book to share with her." - bluemama (from Amazon)
"This book is beautifully illustrated and is an even more beautiful story of the passing on of values intergenerationally. We have read the soft-covered version to our daughter so often that it is in tatters and we needed to invest in the hard-covered version. Great-Aunt Alice spends her life learning how she will choose to make the world a more beautiful place and passes the challenge to do the same to the next generation. If my daughter spends her life living the message of this book, I will have succeeded as a parent. Thank you Barbara Cooney for another great book!" - L A Kopchinski (from Amazon)
"When Alice was a little girl she lived in a village by the sea, and in the evenings would sit on her grandfather's knee and listen to his stories of faraway places. It was then that she decided that when she grew up she too would travel the world, and then, when she grew old, come back home and live in a house by the sea. Her wise grandfather listened to her dreams and then made her promise to do one more thing. "You must do something to make the world more beautiful."
Little Alice grew up. She was called Miss Rumphius now, and she set out on her worldwide adventure. She visited tropical islands and beaches, climbed mountains, walked through jungles, and across deserts, making friends wherever she went. And when she was finished traveling, she went home to her house by the sea. But there was still one more thing Miss Rumphius had to do ... fulfill the promise she made to her grandfather, and when she saw lupine flowers blooming outside her window, she knew just what she would do to make the world a more beautiful place ...
Award-winning author and illustrator, Barbara Cooney, has written a sweet and simple story, with a lovely message that reminds us all to take a little extra time and make the world a better place in which to live. Her gentle, eloquent text is enhanced by her beautiful and engaging illustrations that capture the imagination, and send it soaring. Perfect for youngsters 4-8, Miss Rumphius is a magical, heartwarming treasure, and a picture book to share with family and friends now, and future generations in the years to come." - Roz Levine (from Amazon)
"Many children ask, in various ways, the meaning of life. And, as adults, we stutter and try to cough out some semblance of a meaningful answer that the child will understand. When my daughter was three, she literally asked, "Why are we here?" I had no idea how to answer.
Almost on cue, we read this book a week later, and it answered the question perfectly. This is the story of a woman named Miss Rumphius. As a child, she sat on her grandfather's knee and posed the very question as my daughter. His answer was one of the most simple, beautiful, and meaningful that I've ever read. I can't imagine anyone in this world arguing against it, no matter what religion (or non-religion), political persuasion, or culture.
The answer provides the impetus as to how Miss Rumphius led the rest of her life. It seems as if nearly every reviewer has already given the entire plot, so it's no surprise that her grandfather's answer to why we are here is to simply make the world a more beautiful place. When my daughter heard that, her reply was, "Mommy, you've already made the world a more beautiful place." When I asked how, she replied, "By having me!" I couldn't begin to argue against such wisdom from one of God's small miracles.
This book may appear to be nothing more than a lovely illustrated child's book containing a heartfelt tale. Without a doubt, the illustrations are rich; Ms. Cooney is an extremely talented woman. However, I also believe its message (which is never, ever preachy) is extremely powerful. As such, it is my favourite children's book, and I think every child (and adult) on this earth should read it. " - Jennifer L Metcalfe (from Amazon)