Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney

Miss Rumphius, by Barbara CooneyMiss Rumphius is a sweet, gentle, heartwarming tale of a life well lived.  The inspiring message at this story’s core is a wise perspective on what it means to live a meaningful life.


Narrated by Miss Rumphius’ young niece, this book begins by introducing us to the “little and old” Lupine Lady who lives by the sea, but reminds us that she was not always little and old.  The story then takes us back to the Lupine Lady’s childhood, when she was known as Alice and she had a special, close relationship with her artist grandfather.


Alice wants to grow up to be like her grandfather and tells him, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live by the sea.”


He responds with the simple, powerful advice that serves as the heart of the story, “That is all very well, little Alice, …but there is a third thing you must do.  …  You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”  His advice is both profound and easy to understand.


Alice agrees to do this, but at the time she had no idea how she will make the world more beautiful.  The rest of the story tells us about her life as she grows older, and how she is eventually inspired to carry out the unique means she conceived of bringing beauty to the world.  At the end of the story, we hear Alice pass along this same wisdom to her young niece.


This is a quiet, lovely book with rich, detailed illustrations.  And when bushels of lupine seed that Alice plants begin to bloom throughout the rocky landscape that surrounds her seaside home and town, we see the richness of the color and beauty she spread through her gift to the world.


The unpretentious moral of this story, that of aiming to make the world a more beautiful place, is one that can be interpreted in any number of ways, and one that fits nicely within all spectrums of culture, belief, and political persuasion.


After reading this book, my 7-year-old told me that he wasn’t sure how he was going to make the world a more beautiful place, but that he would figure it out some day.  He mused that it might have something to do with making better forms of alternative energy, so there would be less pollution in the air.  I’m not sure what he’ll do, but simply the fact that he’s thinking about it delights me.


This is a wonderfully charming book, for children and adults alike.  It can be the springboard for big conversations about the purpose of our lives, or it can simply be enjoyed as a lovely story.  No matter how you choose to read it, it’s a book you will enjoy.


You can get your own copy of Miss Rumphius HERE.



Do you have a favorite children’s book that is sweet and inspirational without being preachy?

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