Barbara Cooney - Miss Rumphius

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Miss Rumphius: What we can learn from it

Jan 23, 2006 (Updated Jan 23, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Short and Sweet! Excellent original artwork; Great for adults and children

Cons:Zip

The Bottom Line: Miss Rumphius is an excellent work of art! It can be used as a useful tool to present a positive outlook upon the aging population for children and adults alike.


The following is a review of the children’s book Miss Rumphius, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. The author tells the story of her great aunt, now known as the Lupine Lady. When Miss Rumphius (Alice) was little, she told her grandfather that she wanted to do the same the he did. She wanted to visit places far away and one day live by the sea. Her grandfather agreed that this was a grand idea however he told her she must do one more thing: She must make the world more beautiful.

As she gets older she begins to accomplish all that she had wished to do. She traveled to many far away places seeing beautiful sights and making friends she would never forget. During her travels she attempted to climb off a camel and consequently injured her back. This mishap led her to decide that it was now time she found a new home. It was time she found a beautiful place by the sea.

The next spring Miss Rumphius was not doing very well. Her back was still bothering her and she was limited to the confines of her bed. The thought of her third task to make the world more beautiful had never left her mind. The following spring she was more able to walk and upon a trek along the country side she saw some beautiful lupines growing. Miss Rumphius now knew what she was going to do to make the world more beautiful. She was going to spread the seed herself and watch their magnificence grow.

The story concludes itself with Miss Rumphius, now very old, telling her stories to her young niece (the author Barbara Cooney). Barbara told her aunt that she wanted to
do the same as she did. She wanted to visit places far away and one day live by the sea. Miss Rumphius agreed that this was a grand idea however she told her she must do one more thing: She must make the world more beautiful.

Miss Rumphius is a beautiful story that captures the richness and rewards of the process of aging. It allows readers of all ages to visually and verbally explore the accomplishments one can gain or achieve in life through their interaction with the world around them. As the story fully demonstrated, Miss Rumphius from a very young age had a dream to do as her grandfather did. She understood that her decision to visit far away places, live by the sea, and make the world more beautiful would take a great amount of time to fully accomplish. However, such goals were not without rewards. By traveling the world and visiting far away places Miss Rumphius had wonderful tales and memories to share. She was able to enjoy such interactions with those she loved. She was able to be close with others as she grew older.

There are two themes of this story that I found particularly useful when it comes to understanding old age. Theme one revealed the amazing lives that can be led by people over a lifetime and how such experiences can be shared with others. The unique lifestyles and nurturing tales, past and present, can inspire and encourage younger (or even older) generations to prepare for the enjoyment the aging process and to live life to the fullest.

Theme two presented the fact that life is short no matter how long it may be. We should value our time and heed caution to threats that may interfere with all that we may wish to accomplish. In the story, Miss Rumphius injured her back. This injury ultimately led to her decision to move on to her next task, to live by the sea. However, this injury persisted to antagonize her dreams. As presented, Miss Rumphius was limited in her freedoms and interactions. Sadly she had to stay home in her bed for quite some time. It was only until after she was well again that she was able to accomplish task number three: Make the world a more beautiful place.

There was a point in the story where Miss Rumphius was feeling better and was able to walk again. She got the idea to disperse lupine seed by hand across the community. By doing so she was hoping to make the world more beautiful. She would walk everywhere to scatter the seeds. It came to the point where she was walking around so much and tossing seed so often that some people in the town referred to her as “That Crazy Old Lady” (Cooney, 1982, p.22). It is quite interesting to see such an example. In fact, in reality it is common to see people actively criticize the older population as “crazy” or “eccentric”. Ignorance is often a tool that alters people’s perceptions and opinions in many ways. Such opinions of Miss Rumphius, or any member of the aging population for that matter, are often incorrect and leads to and contributes to such common stereotypes in our society. In reality, misunderstandings and differences between the aged and other age groups in a society could perhaps further be understood or clarified by mere social interaction between the affected parties. The story shows clearly how such assumptions can be resolved by simply undertaking such learning of another’s past. This example can be presented by the fact that the author of this book, at a very young age, understood her great aunt Rumphius. The children of the community also wished to hear the stories of Miss Rumphius, “Sometimes my friends stand with me outside her gate, curious to see the old, old lady who planted the fields of lupines. When she invites us in, they come slowly. They think she is the oldest woman in the world. Often she tells us stories of far away places” (Cooney, 1982, p.26).

Miss Rumphius was a wonderful little story of an amazing life, presented a small book. The author Barbara Cooney was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1917. Much like the character Miss Rumphius she visited far away places, lived by the sea, and made the world a more beautiful place by creating and sharing her work. She presented this story based upon her experiences and learning’s from her great aunt Miss Rumphius. Mrs. Cooney decided to write this book because it a dear account of her past and that it had much meaning to her own life, experiences, and memories. In fact, she had once stated that this story is perhaps the closes she will even have come to writing an autobiography (Hurst & Otis, 1999).

References
Cooney, B. (1982). Miss Rumphius. New York, N.Y.: Puffin Books
Hurst, C. & Otis, R. (1999). Barbara Cooney. Retrieved June 12, 2005, from, http://www.carolhurst.com/authors/bcooney.html


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