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Miss Rumphius

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Alice made a promise to make the world a more beautiful place, then a seed of an idea is planted and blossoms into a beautiful plan.  This beloved classic and celebration of nature—written by a beloved Caldecott winner—is lovelier than ever!

Barbara Cooney's story of Alice Rumphius, who longed to travel the world, live in a house by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful, has a timeless quality that resonates with each new generation. The countless lupines that bloom along the coast of Maine are the legacy of the real Miss Rumphius, the Lupine Lady, who scattered lupine seeds everywhere she went. Miss Rumphius received the American Book Award in the year of publication.

The illustrations have been reoriginated, going back to the original art to ensure state-of-the-art reproduction of Cooney's exquisite artwork. The art for Miss Rumphius has a permanent home in the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

32 pages, Paperback

First published November 8, 1982

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About the author

Barbara Cooney

145 books193 followers
Barbara Cooney was an American writer and illustrator of 110 children's books, published over sixty years. She received two Caldecott Medals for her work on Chanticleer and the Fox and Ox-Cart Man, and a National Book Award for Miss Rumphius. Her books have been translated into 10 languages.

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5 stars
16,927 (62%)
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3 stars
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320 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,174 reviews
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,382 followers
October 19, 2018
"We saw a shadow on your son's lungs," is what they told us. He was ten months old. We were frozen. What could the shadow be? It could be anything. There's a universe of possibilities about that shadow. It could be bad or it could be the end of the world.

It was his stomach, it turns out. He had a hiatal hernia: the hole for his esophagus was too big. His stomach, and most of his intestines, had slipped up around his lungs. All things considered, this is a fixable problem. Over the next year, he had two operations to pull everything back down and tighten that hole. The second one went badly.

What followed was a month-long nightmare. Nathan's stomach stopped working altogether. It's called gastroparesis, and it was just bad luck. He couldn't process food at all. He grew weak and pale, surviving on an IV drip. Again and again I walked him into the operating room, clutching his teddy bear, so the surgeons could try procedure after procedure. Each time, I thought: this could be the time when things go wrong. (Well. Wronger.) They put a central line into his artery so they could feed him TPN, which is fancy Gatorade. They cut his pyloric valve to help his stomach empty. They inserted a G-J tube so we could pump sustenance directly into his intestines. Hole after hole appeared in my child's body. He had six operations in all.

We lived in the children's ward at Cornell in New York City. My wife and I took leaves from our jobs. We were with him all the time. We cleaned adhesive off his body. We ran after him through the halls, pushing his IV pole.

Because through all of this, he was still running. Nathan wasn't old enough yet to feel that this was unfair. He wanted to run. He got a toy medical cart and he ran to nurses and checked their vital signs. He careened through the halls on a motorcycle, racing the other children.

This is Steve, one of many wonderful nurses.

Nights were hard, though. There were a few - we couldn't even give him water, because there was nowhere for it to go. There were times when he was up all night long, crying for water, and we couldn't help him. Those were the hardest nights of our lives. It felt like only Dante could have invented a hell like this.

There were a very few things that could give Nathan a little relief during those endless nights. A nurse's boyfriend was a garbageman and he took videos of his route for us, and Nathan would watch them over and over. I would carry him up and down the dark halls sometimes, Nathan in one arm and his IV pole in the other.

And there was this book, Miss Rumphius, which became his favorite. We would read it to him when the nurses woke him up trying to change his TPN bag, after he'd finally gotten to sleep. We would sit next to him, reading it over and over, while they tried desperately to fix yet another IV line that had failed.

"There is a third thing you must do," says Miss Rumphius to her grandniece. "You must do something to make the world more beautiful." We read those words during the darkest of nights, and they would create just a very small pocket of something beautiful. It was just, just big enough for us to fit inside.

These are goats.

Nathan is fine now. We learned a lot during that month. We were reminded many times how lucky we were: Nathan's problems were dire but temporary. Many of the friends he made in the hospital weren't that lucky. We learned about how strong we are, my wife and I. I remember day two of the crisis, when we still thought the surgery had gone well and we were about to go home, thinking that I was completely drained - good thing it's over, because my well is dry. There would be 24 more days ahead. People talk about finding hidden depths - that the well is deeper than they knew. I don't think it's like that. It's not deeper; it's bottomless. You will never run out of strength.

But I'm not sure I'll ever read this book again. When I tried, I found that it brought me back too vividly to those nights. It hurts. Hospitals freak me out now, too. My wife and I have trauma from that time.

Nathan doesn't. His big takeaway from the whole ordeal is that he got to ride in an ambulance. He wants to dress up as a doctor for Halloween. Maybe that's what he'll become someday. I feel sure that whatever he does, he'll find a way to make the world more beautiful. He's certainly heard that advice enough times.
Profile Image for Majenta.
294 reviews1,292 followers
August 9, 2018
Beautiful concept, beautifully rendered.
Profile Image for Calista.
3,879 reviews31.2k followers
May 7, 2019
I like this book. It tells the story of Great Aunt Alice known as the Lupine lady. She wanted to travel - very smart and she wanted to live by the sea. He father told her that was very well, but she also needed to do something to make the world a more beautiful place. Her father was amazing he craved wood statues to be the figureheads for ships or Indians outside cigar stores that were beautiful. He was a craftsman. Miss Rumphius sailed away and became a librarian. After returning home from her world travels and getting sick she decided to make the world a beautiful place and ordered bushels of Lupine seeds and scattered them all over the town so Lupines surrounded the town and gave her the name Lupine Lady. Now Little Alice wants to travel and live by the sea and great Aunt Alice tells her she also needs to make the world a beautiful place somehow.

The artwork in the book is beautiful. There are faraway places and beautiful flowers. I love the story. It hits on important things to me, flowers and travel and libraries. It was a good story for me.

The niece really appreciated this story. You should see her in NYC. She walks around like she owns the place. It’s amazing. She comes alive in the city. I think she will love to travel. She also loves flowers and planting things. She gave this story 5 stars. The nephew does like to plant flowers, but he doesn’t really slow down so it looks like he appreciates them, maybe he does. He liked seeing all the places Miss Rumphius went too. He thought it was cool that she planted so many flowers, but overall he didn’t get excited over the story. He gave this 3 stars.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,347 reviews526 followers
June 30, 2022
You must do something to make the world more beautiful.

Alice loved sitting at her grandfather's knee in his house by the sea, listening to tales about travelling to faraway places. When she grew up she would go on travelling adventures and then she would live by the sea. Grandfather gave her a third thing to do: make the world more beautiful. Alice took this charge seriously and after she had travelled and settled down by the sea, she sowed lupine seeds all around her corner of the world in the state of Maine. The museum-worthy illustrations are spectacular and the story perfect for sharing. When you visit Maine and see lupines, you can think of Alice. What are you doing to make the world more beautiful today?

Profile Image for Mir.
4,862 reviews5,005 followers
February 26, 2015
I am giving this 4 stars mostly for Ms. Cooney's lovely illustrations.

The story was pretty but not engrossing, and many children in the picture-book age group may be too restless for the rather passive account. I tended to like very active books as a kid, though! I would definitely recommend this if you or your child happen to be fond of flowers.

Profile Image for Roya.
192 reviews378 followers
September 12, 2016
As I try to review the books that were read to me as a child, I come across a dilemma: I cannot review them all. Most of the books of my childhood, even when I read them now, aren't experiences I can easily put into words. Feelings of nostalgia are generally difficult for me to capture and I end up saying too much or not saying anything at all.

This book is an exception. I have just enough to say and I don't think I'll ever tire of it. The story is about the life of a woman called Miss Rumphius (although that's probably very obvious) and is narrarated by her great-niece. I've always found the combination of the story and the stunning illustrations to be very relaxing. All in all a lovely book about a woman who believed that you must do something to make the world more beautiful.

Profile Image for Katie Hanna.
Author 6 books108 followers
November 22, 2016
If my mom had a nickel for every time she read this story to me . . . she'd be a millionaire.

That's how much I loved it.

I still think it's one of the greatest books ever written, and I wouldn't be the same person I am today without it.
Profile Image for Dolly.
Author 1 book643 followers
March 1, 2023
Nicely illustrated story with a wonderful message. I have read this book many, many times and I've even gotten the book (along with a tshirt with one of the interior illustrations screened on it) as a Christmas present. It's one of my favorites.

A young girl tells her grandfather that she wants to go to faraway places and when she grows up, to live beside the sea. Her grandfather's reply:

"That is all very well, little Alice," said her grandfather, "but there is a third thing you must do."

"What is that?" asked Alice.

"You must do something to make the world more beautiful," said her grandfather.

The young girl grows up and follows his advice, accomplishing all that she set out to do. And she served as an inspiration for younger generations as well. I absolutely loved the story and I think our girls liked it too.

Interesting tidbit: Barbara Cooney used my hometown library (see below) as the model for the picture on p. 8. The librarians there always insisted that my father and I were the models for the picture on p. 7; we were the only patrons who ever brought our dog (we had a little chihuahua, not a pug) into the library. It might be a bit of a stretch, but I like to tell our girls that the picture is based on our frequent visits to the library when I was a little girl.

This is a picture of the Lawrence Library in Pepperell, Massachusetts. It is the fine brick library near the center of the town square in my hometown and was where I developed my love of reading.

Profile Image for Trish.
1,931 reviews3,403 followers
January 6, 2019
I found this little gem by coincidence when a friend here reviewed it. I had never heard of the Lupine Lady (Hilda Hamlin) nor of the book before, but went on and did a little research.

Since I like trees and flowers immensely, I think it's a wonderful way of "beautifying the world". Often it's the little things that count so why not flower seeds?

Apparently, this is a well-known classic but just in case you have never heard of it (like me until last Friday), here's a little summary:
Miss Rumphius grows up with her grandfather, an artist, near the sea (probably Maine). She vows to travel the world before settling near the sea herself but the grandfather makes her promise one more thing: to make the world more beautiful, too. She doesn't know how at first so she sets out to do the first two things on her list and it isn't until many years later that she has the inspiration for doing what she becomes famous for.

It's a short and unobtrusive little story of a woman first leading an adventurous life and then settling down. Nevertheless, the message behind it is as beautiful as the illustrations in this little book:

The colours, especially when depicting nature scenes, are wonderful. There are little details thrown in everywhere, though the flowers are the focal point of course.

Really heartwarming and cool.
Profile Image for Idarah.
464 reviews48 followers
December 27, 2016
 photo IMG_0791_zpsu4l83n7q.jpg

"You must do something to make the world more beautiful..."

What a beautifully empowering book with gorgeous illustrations! Would love to have them framed and in my study to cheer me up daily.
Profile Image for Prabhjot Kaur.
1,046 reviews148 followers
February 22, 2021
"You must do something to make the world more beautiful." said her grandfather.

Alice promised her grandfather that she will do something to make the world beautiful. She also wants to go to faraway places and live by the sea. When she grows up, she starts her journey and visits different places and then she settles in a place by the sea. she plants flowers in her garden and when she walks up the hill, she realizes that the seeds she planted must have been carried by the wind and the birds.

Alice still remembers her promise to her grandfather to make the world more beautiful and then she gets an idea. She plants Lupines all around and when they bloom, the world becomes more beautiful and she tells all the stories to children of present day.

I really enjoyed the story of the Lupine Lady and the beautiful pictures painted in acrylic. Pictures told a story of their own from Alice being a child to growing old. And the fact that the author didn't feel the need to marry our Lupine Lady or to have children was a nice change from a lot of the other classics.

5 stars
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,761 reviews1,218 followers
July 8, 2010
Thanks to Goodreads friend Abigail who recommended I might continue considering giving this book a try, despite her rather lukewarm response to it and (perfectly valid) criticisms of it. I have an additional criticism to the ones Abigail listed, but its minor, very minor, and doesn’t detract from the wonderful illustrations, which for me are the heart of the book. I’d have been happy had this been a wordless picture book!

The illustrations are incredibly lovely. They’re all beautiful. I love illustrations by and of the sea and there were plenty of those. The illustrations of the cats were wonderful too. My favorite pictures though are probably the library one and the one at the end in Miss Rumphius’s house with her, cats, and a bunch of children. Oh, and the one of her in bed and the one of her walking in her neighborhood with her cat following her. Etc. etc. etc. I can’t single them out because almost all of them are special. In my opinion, the illustrations are 5 star worthy work.

I liked the story and the whole circle of life aspect. Alice Rumphius’s grandfather is an artist and asks that she make the world a more beautiful place. Adventurous in her youth, when she’s an older woman she finds a way to do that. (A caveat: despite her best intentions, lupine flowers are not benign; see Abigail’s review.) She, in turn, asks her great niece (the narrator of this story) to do the same. It’s a lovely little story that addresses living for both our hearts’ desires and giving something back to the world.

From me it’s 5 stars for the gorgeous pictures and 3-½ stars for the story.
Profile Image for La Coccinelle.
2,245 reviews3,563 followers
October 9, 2018
Here's another 1980s picture book that I somehow missed when I was a kid. I hadn't heard of Miss Rumphius before, but the cover was intriguing.

This is a gentle little story about a girl who grows up with the aim of doing three things: go to faraway places, live beside the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful. The illustrations clearly show the progression of time, probably from the Victorian era to the "present" day (keep in mind that this was published in 1981). It's refreshing to see a female character who doesn't necessarily want to get married and have babies (which is what would have been expected of a woman at that time). Miss Rumphius lives a pretty modern life, travelling solo and seeing the wonders of the world (and making friends along the way). When she finally retires and gets her place by the sea, there's only one thing left to do: make the world more beautiful. What she does is simple, but it perfectly fulfills her original goal.

The pictures are really lovely here. There's plenty to look at. As I said before, the illustrations really help move the story along. Some of my favourites were Miss Rumphius working in the library, the results of her beautification project, and when she's telling her story to the next generation in a room full of reminders of her life.

This is a strong picture book. It has quite a bit of text, but it would probably still be a manageable bedtime read.
Profile Image for Jenna.
1 review
March 26, 2009
My mother read me this story when I was a child and it greatly impacted and inspired me. I carry this story with me-and intend to read it to my kids. It reminds me of Maine and my favorite flower as well-and it reminds me that even the smalled action can make the world a little better!
Profile Image for Melody Schwarting.
1,438 reviews83 followers
July 15, 2021
I purchased a copy of this to give to my niece, who even at the tender age of infancy cannot escape my literary ministrations. It's told by a great-niece, which charmed me even more. My parents live in a place where lupines are plenty, so I hope she grows up associating the story with that. The illustrations are simply charming, and Miss Rumphius has the most enviable picture book wardrobe. What I would do for her green cape!

Little Niece is already making the world more beautiful just by being here, but I hope stories like these will inspire her in childhood to begin creating order from chaos, beauty from ugliness, love from apathy. It's our resurrection work, and even the smallest flower can speak of triumphant, eternal day after long nights of sorrow.
Profile Image for Suzy.
775 reviews249 followers
January 5, 2017
This is the story of Alice Rumphius, who when she was a girl told her grandfather that when she grows up she wants to go to faraway places, and when she grows old she will live beside the sea. Her grandfather agrees, but adds "You must do something to make the world more beautiful". Alice's life story of going to faraway places, living by the sea when she's old and beautifying the world is told to us by her great niece toward the end of Alice's life. BEAUTIFULLY illustrated by the author, I know a few little ones in my life who will be getting this as a gift. I'm so glad my GR friend Eve read/reviewed this recently. Not sure how I missed this wonderful book before.
Profile Image for Katherine.
733 reviews89 followers
December 7, 2021
September 2018
I've always loved books and even as an adult I continue to love children's books. Sometimes when I'm feeling blue re-reading them and enjoying the pictures is a particular peaceful comfort for me. Not only do I love the wonderful illustrations in this one, I think the message is profound.
"Do something to make the world more beautiful."

December 2021
As I reread this time I thought how the "something to make the world more beautiful" is so varied. Miss Rumphius scattered lupine seeds but there are infinite ways that can make the world better and more beautiful. A friend I know shares flowers from her garden, another makes lovely cards and sends them to others, yet another has a gift for insight sharing what she has learned. Another knows just when someone in her acquaintance needs encouragement and reaches out accordingly, someone else has a talent for letter writing & correspondence, still another has the intrinsic quality of peace & peacemaking calming the waters wherever they go. It's been my privilege to be on the receiving end of each of these.

Which prompts me to ask, what can I do to make the world better?

How will you make the world more beautiful?
Profile Image for Sarah.
41 reviews
March 4, 2012
I want to give this 4.5 or almost 5 stars... BUT. It has this great life lesson, that we should do what we can to make the world a more "beautiful" place, and through her life, Miss Rumphius does all sorts of things that make the world better, happy, beautiful for others. However, I think it's a book that really needs a lot of discussion with the adult reader for little ones, because on the surface it seems to say "make the world pretty" and doesn't explicitly acknowledge that Miss Rumphius's exchange of goodwill and love with peoples across the globe, her service as a librarian, and her storytelling to the children of the neighborhood are all ways she made the world more beautiful. A younger kid hears "plant flowers to make the world look nice." With discussion and exchange of ideas about the book though, even a very young listener gets the point.
Profile Image for Anastasia.
214 reviews8 followers
July 10, 2008
When I read this story for the first time, Miss Rumphius reminded me of my grandmother, who was then an older lady still making time to travel the world and see Egypt and other places that to me sounded mystical and exotic. She kept her own garden in the yard of her little house in Florida, and while her flowers were nothing like those in the story of Miss Rumphius they added a small touch of beauty to the place. The artwork in this story is itself a work towards adding beauty to the world: the soft landscapes and elegant almost Victorian figures stick in the mind years after.
Profile Image for Ivonne Rovira.
1,898 reviews198 followers
July 26, 2021
There was never an actual Great-Aunt Alice Rumphius, but there really was a Lupine Lady on the Maine coast. She was Hilda Hamlin, and, like her fictional counterpart, Hamlin sowed lupine seeds along the sea to make the world more beautiful. Unlike Miss Rumphius, Mrs. Hamlin was English-born before coming to Christmas Cove, Maine, and imported the lupine seeds from her homeland. Mrs. Hamlin never became a librarian, marrying a Pulitzer Prize-winning Columbia University professor instead. However, like Miss Rumphius, Mrs. Hamlin traveled the world and ended her life in a Maine cottage with a splendid garden with lupines, although she spread the seeds in secret.

The late Barbara Cooney, who shared a well-deserved National Book Award for this picture book she wrote and illustrated, lived 20 miles away from the real “Miss Rumphius.” Please read it yourself to see why this book, set at the turn of the 20th century, holds up so well in the 21st. Then do something to make the world more beautiful.
Profile Image for Judy.
3,095 reviews54 followers
September 7, 2021
There's so much about this book that I like, especially the setting of long term goals and doing something positive for the earth. Then too, Miss Rumphius is a strong single female and she grows old. Of course, the lupines she plants everywhere could become an invasive weed, but I like to think that Miss Rumphius used seeds that were native to the area.

In fairness, I should add that I like this book better than the kids do.
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,113 reviews186 followers
July 2, 2019
Growing up, Alice Rumphius dreamt of seeing the world, and then settling down in a little house by the sea. Confiding in her beloved grandfather - an artist like herself - Alice is told that she must do one additional thing: she must make the world a more beautiful place. Many years later, having lived her dreams, Alice sets out to fulfill her promise to her grandfather. But what can she do to make the world more beautiful...?

This was a sweet story - and the illustrations were simply gorgeous! - but I confess that I wasn't as impressed as I expected to be, given the number of goodreads friends who have awarded it four or five stars. The two main criticisms I have seen of Miss Rumphius - that planting lupines all over the place (the beautification project chosen by our heroine) is actually an ecologically unsound idea, as they are quite invasive, and will destroy indigenous flora; and that the wooden cigar Indians carved by Alice's grandfather are offensive, and should not have been included in a book first published in 1982 - don't really explain my lack of enthusiasm. (not that they aren't true)

I guess the truth is that I'm leery of the notion that beauty - finding it, creating it, being it - is the purpose of life. Of course, we all find our own purpose, and for an artist, beauty must surely come into it. But there is this way, in our culture, that girls and women are shepherded toward the ideal of beauty, persuaded that our highest calling is somehow entangled with it, whether in a personal way (being physically beautiful ourselves) or a practical one (creating beauty in our homes and work). And my response to that is: No. No, I don't think making the world a more beautiful place - as it is defined here - is the highest (or only) goal. I want to help make the world a more just place.

In any case, I don't want to go overboard here. As a tale of giving something back, rather than just living for oneself alone, I think Miss Rumphius has merit, and I understand why it is so beloved by other readers. But I simply can't agree with those reviewers (and there seem to be many of them) who perceive it as some kind of guide to life. A hint, perhaps - one of many...
Profile Image for Joyce.
425 reviews57 followers
February 11, 2017
Wonderful. Simple. Classic. Gorgeous illustrations. Ideal for a bedtime story. Pitch perfect.
Profile Image for Beth.
109 reviews22 followers
May 1, 2021
I planted a lupine a couple of weeks ago (not for the bloom but because I like the way water gathers on the leaves) and mom insisted I read about the lupine lady.
Profile Image for Woodrós .
513 reviews8 followers
May 24, 2012
I loved this book, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. However, it's hard to still give it 5-stars now that I know lupines are invasive species and considered weeds in many countries. That rather interferes with my enjoyment.

So, if you read it with your child, perhaps pair it with a lesson on invasive/native species! What NATIVE species would your child plant to beautify the world? Also, of course, we can still brainstorm other ways to make the world more beautiful...
Profile Image for Annie ⚜️.
501 reviews16 followers
January 29, 2019
Beautiful, gentle illustrations with lots to talk about and a beautiful message. What will you do to make the world more beautiful? My son doesn't know yet either. It we had fun discussing it. Also, I loved the message of loving travel and exploring. Well done. I've seen this title in many book lists and it did not disappoint. I already put in a request for a cottage by the sea just like hers and we'll definitely be planting lupines.
Profile Image for Amy.
311 reviews40 followers
March 8, 2018
I adore this sweet little book. It’s one I use every year to introduce personal narratives. We discuss the older people in our lives and how they’ve perhaps made the the world a more beautiful place, then we consider how each of us could make the world more beautiful, too. The resulting journal entries are usually some of my favorites of the school year.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,599 reviews191 followers
July 23, 2020
Pretty illustrations that have a calm, soothing effect about a woman who travels all over the world, then returns home to live by the sea. And plants lupines all over her town, adding a little bit of beauty to everyone’s surroundings.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,174 reviews

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