Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

A few years ago I was putting together a list of classic children's books (and new classics) for a friend who was pregnant, so she could steer thoughtful gift-givers away from stuffed animals and towards much more practical and useful gifts. As I was referencing different lists to jog my memory, I kept running across Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, which I did not remember at all, but which very much intrigued me (my mother has since informed me that while we didn't own this book, we did check it out of the library many times, but I really have no memory of it at all.) So I bought a copy. And wow, what a lovely book it is!
Victorian-era Alice was captivated by her grandfather's tales of his travels across the seas. She said "When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea." But her grandfather made her promise to do one more thing as well: make the world more beautiful. When she grew up, she moved away and became a librarian. She travelled to the tropics, to mountains and jungles and deserts. But when she hurts her back in India, she decides it is time to "find my place by the sea." She planted some flowers, but then was laid up with her back again. When she was finally able to get around, she found that her favorite lowers, lupines, had spread all over her property. And she decided to help. She walked all over the area, scattering lupine seeds. And she made her niece make the same promise she had once made to her grandfather.

The story is so expansive and beautiful, yet matter-of-fact. There is no talk of how her travels must have been tiring and difficult. There is no judgment at all about her being a single librarian and never marrying. In fact, Miss Rumphius might not have been able to travel so much if she were not single. The book shows children that there are so many options in life, and that you really can do anything you set your mind to. It shows both the importance of home, and the wonder of travel. I think the "by the sea" parts look an awful lot like Maine, but I suppose it could also be the Pacific Northwest. The illustrations are detailed and fanciful. Obviously the lessons in the story are for a slightly older child (5-6) but it would be so wonderful to ask a child after reading this story: Where do you want to travel? What do you think you could do to make the world more beautiful?
This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.


bibliophiliac said...

My daughters loved this book. Thanks for this lovely post.

Julie P. said...

This is a new one to me, but it sounds marvelous!

Plus I love the idea of getting books instead of stuffed animals!!! For one of my showers, everyone was asked to bring a book as part of their gift!

Laura Kozy Lanik said...

I really loved this book as well. Thanks for following. I am now a fan of yours.