Making the World a More Beautiful Place by Moderator Gail Gleeson

A book that celebrates both the beauty of nature and the joy of travel is Miss Rumphius, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Ms. Cooney, who died in 2000, was the author and illustrator of over 100 books for children, two of which were awarded the Caldecott medal.

Her illustrations contain vibrant color and exquisite detail that pulls the reader in for closer examination. Miss Rumphius reflects Ms. Cooney’s love of the Maine coast where she spent her summers as a child. Two other books, Island Boy and Hattie and the Wild Waves complete the trilogy of life in Maine that Ms. Cooney felt were the closest she came to writing an autobiography.

The story begins with an introduction by the great-niece of Miss Rumphius, who once was a little girl named Alice. Alice lived by the sea in Maine where her grandfather had a woodworking and painting studio. In an illustration rich with warmth and family comfort, we see Alice’s grandfather giving her the advice that will guide her life: she must do something to make the world more beautiful.

Years go by and Alice works as a librarian (hooray!) but longs for travel. She travels to a tropical island, visits mountains, jungles and deserts. Eventually she injures her back riding a camel, and decides to return to her home by the seas to convalesce. She still must heed the advice of grandfather by doing something to make the world more beautiful.

As she lies in bed in springtime, she notices the pink, blue and purple lupines that she had casually planted the previous fall. She wishes she could plant more, but is still too weak, however, to her surprise, the wind and birds do the work for her, and the next spring lupines are blossoming all over the hillside near her home.

Thereafter Alice/Miss Rumphius plants lupines wherever she goes, and the whole area where she lives, including near the school and church, is brightened with their peaceful pastel colors. In the end of the book, the young narrator reflects that she too must find a way to make the world more beautiful.

Lupines are a hardy plant that grow primarily in the northeastern part of North America, and they can survive in rocky, sandy soil. However, I discovered on my trip to California, they also grow abundantly in Yosemite.

Lupines in the moonlight.

Enjoy Miss Rumphius with children who are old enough to follow a storyline and discuss ways in which they can make the world a more beautiful place. Help them to start today by growing something, cleaning up trash, or even painting a picture of something in nature just as this celebrated author, Ms. Cooney, did. Perhaps buy a packet of wildflower seeds and see what turns up in your yard next spring!

Check these lesson plans, activites, and pdf of a drawing and writing response for students. Post your answers that you have done with your family on the Share Curriculum Blog from the Philosophy for Kids website featuring Miss Rumphius.

Bader, Barbara. The Hornbook . Sept/Oct 2000, retrieved July 25, 2011 from:

Otis, Rebecca. Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site, retrieved July 25, 2011 from:


Margaret said...

I love this book. I gave this book to our local library. This is as much about love as it is about lupine and think Miss Rumphius' quiet and steady goal to beautify the world a magnificent lesson in compassion and giving.

Gail G said...

Margaret, you make a great point. The lessons most taken to heart are those we learn from people we love. Thanks for reading!

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