In honor of Earth Day, I’m sharing Miss Rumphius, a picture book beloved by many—both adults and children. Often called “the lupine lady,” it was written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney who illustrated many books for children.
The long life of Miss Alice Rumphius is shared by her fictional grand-niece and it included work, travel to exotic places, a beautiful home by the sea, and making a difference in the world…sigh, not too shabby.
The book Miss Rumphius has also enjoyed a long life. It was first published in 1985 and it’s still in print from Penguin Random House. I believe this book has endured, in part, because it shows us a fulfilling life from childhood into old age—something we all aspire to.
With the fairly recent advent of picture book biographies we do see interesting lives highlighted more frequently. But there is something very special and satisfying about Miss Rumphius.
Young Alice loves and respects her own grandfather, who tells her to “do something to make the world more beautiful.” I love that Miss Rumphius leaves a legacy to younger generations—sowing the countryside with the seeds of colorful lupine flowers. It is endearing also, that she is passing on the legacy of her grandfather’s wisdom.
This book realistically shares the uncertainty, even fear, of children who initially see Miss Rumphius only as a very old woman at the end of the book, but then later sit at her feet to hear her stories.
And yes, old age can include illness. (Although all too often disease is equated with aging,) It’s good to see that while Miss R.’s back problems keep her in bed for a time, she recovers to hike the hills once more to spread more lupine seeds.
Sharing this lovely picture book with children we are given the opportunity to discuss how we as humans can harm Mother Earth or help it.
It also allows us to talk with them about both positive and negative aspects of growing older, and the strength and resilience of our elders.
The author received The American Book Award for Miss Rumphius and won two Caldecott Medals for other books. This book is part of what Cooney “retrospectively called a trilogy — ”Miss Rumphius” (1982), ”Island Boy” (1988) and ”Hattie and the Wild Waves” (1990)’” in The New York Times. “They made up what she said was ”as close to any autobiography as I will ever get.’”
Like her character, Barbara Cooney lived a long life filled with travel. She enjoyed a career of 60 years as an illustrator who most definitely made the world more beautiful. Barbara Cooney also lived in a home by the sea—one built by her son on the coast of Maine.
We can discuss with children both the goals and challenges that older adults might have, and also the fact that despite changing bodies people of all ages are really the same in so many ways.
Seize the chance to take note of just what you value in the older people you love, and share that legacy with your children. But also consider sharing it with them.
Years ago I gifted my own mother with this beautiful and lyrical book, and thanked her for teaching me to notice nature’s gifts.
***Do you know this picture book? What is it that captivates you?
More picture books to share with children on Earth Day (or any day).
Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt.
Gwen Frostic was a nature artist and early environmentalist from Michigan who sold her beautiful greeting cards worldwide hoping to open people’s eyes to the wonder and beauty of our natural world.
Recognized as a Sigurd F. Olsen Nature Writing award 2019 recommended title. A 2018 Michigan Notable Book.
Stretch to the Sun by Carrie Pearson.
Brand new! A lovely story about “the tallest tree on earth. For over 1200 years, this giant coast redwood has survived enormous natural challenges but its biggest adversaries—and saviors—were people.”
Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs by Linda Vander Heyden.
Mr. McGinty and his dog Sophie love checking in on the monarch caterpillars and butterflies on their walks. But one day Mr. McGinty they find all the milkweed in town has been mowed down! And monarch caterpillars can’t survive without milkweed. Can Mr. McGinty come up with a plan to save the monarchs?
A 2016 Sigurd F. Olsen Nature Writing Award Honorable Mention title.
Four Otters Toboggan by Vivian Kirkfield.
Lyrical text introduces children to ten endangered animals: river otters, Peregrine falcons, yellow mud turtles and more. Read more at Good Reads with Ronna.
Info on the “real Miss Rumphius” Hilda Edwards.
I reviewed my own copy of Miss Rumphius.