Miss Rumphius’ Life Advice & Storytime Activities

The 1982 children’s book Miss Rumphius proves to stand the test of time and offers the opportunity for educators, librarians, and parents to get existential with their kids. Both the story and pictures are by Barbara Cooney, who lived in Damariscotta, Maine, close to the real woman who likely inspired Miss Rumphius. 

The fictional young Miss Rumphius, Alice, is raised by her grandfather, and together they decide that she must do three things when she grows up: go to faraway places, live by the sea, and do something to make the world a more beautiful place.

While Miss Rumphius does travel and ends up buying her house by the sea, she then gets sick and must spend a winter in bed; this snippet of real life is refreshing, as children’s books rarely present anything adverse, but sometimes people just get sick.

Barbara Cooney was open about the importance of not shying away from real life in children’s books. When accepting her Caldecott Medal for illustrating Chanticleer and the Fox, Cooney told the audience, “It does not hurt them,” to hear about the real stuff of life, about “good and evil, love and hate, life and death.” 

When Miss Rumphiuus recovers, she only has one thing left to do: make the world more beautiful. She decides to do so by spreading lupine seeds all around her town. While lupines are not actually
native to Maine, the flower has become synonymous with the area, so the reader is able to presume that this is where she lives. Turns out, the real Miss Rumphius, named Hilda Edwards, was likely responsible for the lupines in Maine, because she actually did plant seeds, imported from her native England, in 1926.

In the fictional story, Miss Rumphius lives a full life without having been married or had children, something that even I (as an adult) was waiting for the first time I read the story. Even though the real Miss Rumphius did wed and have children,
Miss Rumphius is a beautiful reminder that women (and men) can live full lives without wedding or having children. Miss Rumphius is also an excellent model for young girls of a woman who has a career she loves, travels the world, and buys her own home, independently and happily.  

The one thing Miss Rumphius does to make the world a more beautiful place is simple: she plants flowers all around her town. The act being so simple yet effective makes it powerful, and it’s a wonderful example of how it doesn’t always take an extreme act to impact the world in a positive way and make it a better home for all of us.  

Miss Rumphius Storytime Activities: 

  1. Give students and patrons a pack of native seeds to make the world more beautiful: 

Briefly talking about the importance of planting more native species in your area is an excellent learning opportunity. Plus, it’s cost effective to find a large bag of native wildflower seeds and individually package them yourself for your students or library patrons. 

  1. Provide a space and supplies for children to complete one of these illustrated journal prompts: 

  • Draw yourself in a faraway land.  

  • Draw a picture of your house by the sea. 

  • Draw how you would make the world a more beautiful place.

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