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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Miss Rumphius

Miss Rumphius barbara cooney book review saffron tree
Miss Rumphius
by Barbara Cooney

Ages 4-8

Thanks to a fund-raising event in my daughter's school, we got our very own copy of Miss Rumphius, with a personal inscription from Ana's teacher, and it has quickly earned a special place in our bookshelf.

Little girl Alice narrates the story of her great-aunt, Miss Alice Rumphius, who is now known as The Lupine Lady.

Once upon a time, little Miss Alice Rumphius lived in a city by the sea, with her grandfather who came to America many years ago. She seems to have a special bond with her grandfather, listening to his stories of faraway places and assisting him with his paintings.

On her grandfather's knee, she declares that when she grows up she too will travel the world, and she too will live by the sea, very much like her grandfather.

The grandfather says, "That is all very well, Alice. But, there is a third thing you must do."

And what is that? "You must do something to make the world more beautiful", he says.

And that is exactly what Miss Alice Rumphius sets out to do. She travels the world, meets many people and makes many friends. And finally, after injuring herself while climbing down from a camel's back, she finds a place by the sea for a quiet life.

But there is still one more thing I have to do, she tells herself. The world is nice as it is. What can I do to make it more beautiful? she wonders...

Little Alice then tells us the story of what her great-aunt Miss Alice Rumphius did to make the world more beautiful, and earn the nickname The Lupine Lady: she scattered lupine seeds everywhere, and let the blue, purple and rose-colored lupines make the place more beautiful.

"When I grow up, I too will go places and then come back home to live by the sea", little Alice tells her great-aunt.

Predictably, great-aunt Miss Alice Rumphius says, "That is all very well, Alice. But there is a third thing you must do. You must do something to make the world more beautiful."

Little Alice leaves us with, "But I do not know yet what that can be".

The illustrations of the seaside and faraway places are beautiful. The last page describes how they were done.

I liked the fact that Miss Rumphius broke the stereotypical role of wife, mother, grandmother and set out to do what she really wanted to do in life. I also liked that rather than just living in this world, taking what we can from it, we are urged to ponder on how to give back. That's two powerful messages, delivered very simply: Follow Your Dreams and Make The World A Better Place For All.

Every time we read this book, I naturally ask, "What would you do to make the world more beautiful, Ana?" And at times, I am quite surprised by the answer. When I came across this Book Lady , I told my daughter about how the Book Lady made the world more beautiful by sharing books. And we talk about what "beautiful" means - not just visually pleasing, but something more.

And, she has been pretty vocal about not living in this house with us when she is a grown up, but, exploring/traveling the world and living in faraway places. This book seems to have made a rather deep impression on her.

There were a couple of minor things about the book I was not terribly comfortable with. Early on in the book, the grandfather, an artist, carves "Indians out of wood to put in front of cigar stores". This bothered me at a couple of different levels.

One other minor point of confusion was the names of the narrator and the subject of the book - they are both named Alice. The story starts out with little Alice introducing The Lupine Lady to us. But, when she proceeds to narrate the story of The Lupine Lady, we read that she was a little girl named Alice. To my five year old, this required a bit of sorting out. A minor point, as noted, but, am not sure if the identical names add to the story.

Not much is said about Miss Rumphius' parents which led my daughter to wonder about them. Perhaps they died, perhaps they were in a faraway place... it gives an open lead for us to explore while reading the book.

Just the simple act of scattering the seeds and waiting for the blossoms to uplift the spirits seemed inspiring. Lupines are wonderful, they help fix nitrogen in the soil, many are annuals, and they are pretty. But, I was thinking about ecological balance, invasive plant species and consequences of changing the landscape without due thought... and concluded that I should save that sermon for later ...

[This post written for Saffron Tree]

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At 8:48 AM, Blogger Playing by the book said...

What a very lovely sounding book. It makes me think of making seed bombs - - I love the idea of a little bit of guerrilla gardening!


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