Introduction to Miss RumphiusNamed a New York Times Best Book of the Year and winner of a National Book Award for Children’s Picture Books in 1983, Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius has become a classic. Little Alice Rumphius lives with her grandfather and wants to grow up to be just like him. She, too, wants to go to faraway places and live by the sea. Her grandfather tells Alice that's all very well but there is a third thing she must do: "You must do something to make the world more beautiful." Children 3 and older will enjoy their journey with Miss Rumphius as she accomplishes her first two goals and strives to find her third life purpose.
Alice Rumphius leaves home and works in a library in a distant city. There she is known as "Miss Rumphius." After working, many travels and making many friends, it becomes time to find her home by the sea. But she still wonders if she will ever be able to make the world a more beautiful place.
After having spent many months in bed with a bad back, one spring day Miss Rumphius is able to take walks again. She is surprised at the large patch of lupines she sees on the other side of the hill, seeded by the lupines she had planted by her house the previous summer. Now she has a wonderful idea about how to make the world a more beautiful place. At first when people see her scattering seeds all around the community, some of them call her "That Crazy Lady" but when the seeds became beautiful lupines, she became known and appreciated as the Lupine Lady.
Now a very old woman, Miss Rumphius graciously entertains her great-niece Alice and the neighborhood children with tales of faraway places. The story comes full circle as her great-niece says she wants to follow in her great-aunt’s footsteps by traveling to faraway places and then settling down in a home by the sea. Just as her grandfather challenged her, Aunt Alice tells her niece that there is one more thing she must do. She, too, must do something to make the world more beautiful.
Although the illustrations in Miss Rumphius appear to be done with watercolors, Barbara Cooney actually used acrylics and colored pencils. By making her illustrations full of activity and color, she strived to make the past come alive for children. While the Victorian-like characters are small, they do not appear insignificant in the vast landscapes and seascapes that have a translucent quality. Although the hues are soft and gentle, she captures details such as the curve of the cat’s tail, the diverse faces from her travels, and the pictures on the wall.
The AuthorBarbara Cooney was born in 1917 and grew up on Long Island. Her love for Maine began at the age of 2 when her family began vacationing there and is the setting for several of her books, including much of Miss Rumphius. Graduating in 1938 from Smith College, Cooney studied lithography and etching at the Art Students League in New York.
Barbara Cooney won the Randolph Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration twice, first in 1958 for a version of Chaucer’s Chanticleer and the Fox, illustrated using the scratchboard technique. Her second Caldecott, in 1980, was for paintings in a primitive folk art style for Donald Hall’s Ox-Cart Man. After the second Caldecott, Cooney began to both illustrate and write her own stories. In retrospect, she referred to three of her books as the trilogy that made up what she said was close to an autobiography: Miss Rumphius (1982), Island Boy (1988), and Hattie and the Wild Waves (1990).
Barbara Cooney’s work is admired and respected because of her attention to accuracy and historical detail. In her 1959 Caldecott speech, she commented on her attention to detail: “If I put enough in my pictures, there may be something for everyone. Not all will be understood, but some will be understood now and maybe more later.” (Sources: Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site, New York Times obituary, 3/15/2000, Penguin.com: About Barbara Cooney)