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Top 100 Picture Books #13: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

#13 Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (1982)
79 points

This is such a great lesson book without being preachy. I remember my 20 year old son coming home and telling me all about this book after his teacher read it in class. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I knew all about this book and it was one of my favorite books too. Nothing would do but for us to go right to the store and buy lupine seeds to plant. Alas my thumb is not as green as Miss Rumphius’. My lupine seeds didn’t sprout, but it was okay I will never forget how excited my 9 year old son was to share that book with me. – Amy Miele

Was there ever any question that the Top 20 picture books would consist of titles that were deeply beloved?  Never.  But I admit to you that Miss Rumphius was a surprise to me.  Yet if the quote above is any indication Cooney’s classic is very near and very dear to people’s hearts.

From the B&N plot synopsis: “As a child, Miss Rumphius dreams of traveling to faraway places. Her grandfather assures her that this is possible, but also advises her to do something to make the world more beautiful. As an old lady, Miss Rumphius returns to her home by the sea, but realizes she has yet to fulfill her grandfather’s wish. Inspired by her garden, Miss Rumphius creates a world of loveliness for those who live nearby.”

Finding background info on this book turned out to be mighty hard.  Thank goodness for Anita Silvey’s Book-a-Day Almanac.  In her Miss Rumphius post she says of the origins that, “By the time she worked on Miss Rumphius, she had over forty years of experience in children’s book illustrations. An autobiographical picture book, Cooney drew on the life of her great grandfather, who painted pictures and allowed his young daughter, Cooney’s grandmother, to help. ‘I see that little girl—painting away, making yards and yards of fluffy clouds and sunsets and storms with lightening and rainbows.’ Cooney also based the character of Alice Rumphius on an historical figure who traveled the world planting flower seeds.”

Now according to Ms. Cooney’s obituary, found on Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site, “Barbara Cooney was born in Room 1127 of the Hotel Bossert in Brooklyn, New York in 1917 . . . ‘Of all the books I have done,’ she says, ‘Miss Rumphius (Viking, 1982), Island Boy (Viking, 1988), and Hattie and the Wild Waves (Viking, 1990), are the closest to my heart. These three are as near as I ever will come to an autobiography. There are, of course, many dissimilarities between me and Alice Rumphius, but, as I worked, she gradually seemed to become my alter ego. Perhaps she had been that right from the start.’  Barbara Cooney took her adopted state of Maine to her heart and Maine returned the affection. In 1989, the Maine Library Association created the Lupine Award, named for Miss Rumphius, to recognize outstanding children’s books by state residents or to honor authors whose chosen subjects were about Maine. Their opening ceremony honored Miss Rumphius and its creator.”

Miss Rumphius
also happened to win the American Book Sellers National Book Award in 1983.  So well done there.

And for the record, while you may find plenty of children’s literary blogs that make allusions to Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and other classics The Miss Rumphius Effect is one of the biggies out there that credits this book and this book alone in its title.  A delightful choice.

And talk about inspirational:

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.