Miss Rumphius Makes the World More Beautiful


Miss Rumphius by two time Caldecott winning author and illustrator Barbara Cooney (Viking Books for Young Readers, 1982).  Cooney won the National Book Award the year it was publsihed.  She was also the U.S. nominee in 1994 for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international recognition for creators of children’s books.  This book was first published in 1982 and continues to strike a chord readers of all ages.   This book is one that I remember checking out of the library as a child and just dreaming of what I would do to make the world more beautiful.

Fast forward thirty years and I find myself reading it with the same enthusiasm I had all those years ago, but this time to my petites.  This story is about Alice Rumphius, who dreamed of traveling the world, living her life in a house by the sea, and most importantly follow her grandfathers advice to make the world more beautiful.  This story, is absolutely timeless – what she does to make the world a more beautiful place.  The illustrations of this book are so stunning and so perfect, you will be transported alongside Alice on her mission to make the world more beautiful.  Miss. Rumphius over the course of many years drops lupine seeds all around her community filling it with beauty for years to come.
During the reading of this story we stop at many parts and discuss what is happening.  We discuss where we might like to travel, or what jobs we think would make us happy, where we might like to live; etc.  When the story ends, I asked my petites what think they would do to make the world more beautiful…and I waited my seven year old took only a few moments, she said that she would like to swim all over the oceans of the world and collect all of the garbage that people have left behind.  My three year old very thoughtfully told us that she would like to help the birds, by taking care of them and feeding them if they cannot find food on their own.
I was thrilled to have this amazing interaction with my petites, this book provides you with such a remarkable way to connect with your children, to understand what they are thinking, what they value and how they feel like they might be able to contribute to making the world a better or more beautiful place.
This book got me thinking of how much fun it would be to share this story with students, to read them this beautiful story and have them think of the three things that they would like to accomplish like Miss. Rumphius and then what they would like to do to make the world more beautiful.  There are so many possibilities of how you could you this book in your classroom.
  • one or two sentences and a picture
  • free write about what they would do to make the world more beautiful
  • five paragraphs about who they would make the world more beautiful, why they would want to do it and how they could encourage others to make the world more beautiful
  • brainstorming with table group ways that they could make their community more beautiful and then share aloud
  • make a list of the things “Ways in Which My Life Would Be Different” and “Ways in Which My Life Would Be The Same” if I lived on a tropical island
  • Brainstorm several examples of beauty in the world. Sorting ideas into different lists, such as:
    • natural things
    • made by humans
    • things to do: actions


  • make drawings or collages to represent what they would do to make the world more beautiful
  • recreate their favorite part of the book
  • paint lupines using bubble wrap dipped in paint
  • finger painting lupines


  • tropical island study: learn the plants and animals that live there. (like the island Miss. Rumphius visited)
  • buy a packet of lupine seeds and plant them and do predictions about how the seeds will grow and then plant them around the community or the school
  • Watch The Magic School Bus “Goes to Seed” episode to learn more about seeds

When I worked in the elementary world, I had the most fun making  bulletin boards, with one of my very best teacher friends, and this one would be amazing to create a hillside with lupines filled with what the kids would do to make the world a better place/more beautiful.

What I love most about this book is that it is still so relevant, maybe now more than ever.  Barbara Cooney filled a void that was present at the time in children’s books, a void that I believe many authors and illustrators are still trying to navigate.  Here are her thoughts on receiving the Caldecott in 1959:

 “I believe that children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting…. It does not hurt them to read about good and evil, love and hate, life and death. Nor do I think they should read only about things that they understand…. a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. So should a child’s. For myself, I will never talk down to—or draw down to—children.” 

We couldn’t agree more.  This is a timeless tale that petites of all ages will enjoy.


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