Monday, October 22, 2012

Book #296: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

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She wasn’t always called the Lupine Lady or even Miss Rumphius, when she was young they called her Alice. She lived in a city by the sea with her grandfather who told her stories of faraway places. Alice vowed to visit many faraway places and when she grew old she too would live in a city by the sea. But her grandfather said there was a third thing, “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” Alice didn’t know what that could be, but she promised. When Alice grew up into Miss Rumphius she did indeed travel the world and when she grew even older she bought a house by the sea. But what could she do to make the world more beautiful? Then she saw the lupines on the other side of the hill and she knew just what to do. She bought bushels of lupine seeds and spent all summer walking and scattering handfuls of seeds. The next spring the lupines bloomed all over the seaside town. Now Miss Rumphius is old, but she makes her granddaughter, Alice, promise what she promised her grandfather, “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

The text of this American Book Award winner is written from the granddaughter’s perspective. She lovingly tells the story of her grandmother, a woman she obviously admires and wishes to emulate. The imagery in the text is subtle, but evocative. This delicate and heartwarming story is accompanied by intricate and soft illustrations, which were painted in acrylics with accents of color pencil on gesso-coated percale fabric mounted on illustration board. Cooney deftly illustrates Miss Rumphius throughout the years starting as a red-haired adolescent, through her travels to many faraway places, to her old age as gray and white spread through her abundant hair. The style of clothing and hair show the passage of time as well. For instance, as a girl Miss Rumphius, long hair pulled into a pony tail, wears dresses and high buttoned shoes. In contrast, her granddaughter is clad in sneakers and jeans topped off by a mop of unruly red hair.

The Philosophy for Kids website has a list of good discussion questions to ask kids before/after reading this book. Many could be used as writing prompts for kids for middle school or high school students.

Brainstorm a list of things you can do to make the world more beautiful. Talk about the different meanings of the word, “beautiful.” It doesn’t have to mean beautiful in appearance, there are many kinds of beauty and many ways to share that beauty. What kinds of things are beautiful to you and how could you share them with someone else? I bet the kids will surprise you with their answers.  If you are reading this your own kids or a group of kids you regularly meet with, see if it’s possible to follow through with one or more of the items on the list.  

Many children will not have seen a lupine flower growing in real life, so bring in photographs. If your budget allows, buy packets of flower seeds and plant them. If you don’t have the resources/time to plant the seeds together give out seed packets at the end of the storytime. Display books about gardening so that kids can read more about growing their flowers.

Create your own finger painted lupines. You can simplify the craft by eliminating the pastel background. If you want to extend the craft to a second day, have kids outline the shapes in marker (black is used in this example, but you could really use any color). Make the world more beautiful by painting lupines on cards and sending them to a friend, relative, teacher, librarian, or another person of the child's choice. 

You can also learn more about Maine, the location of Miss Rumphius’ house by the sea. Cooney herself lived in Maine and loved the lupines she saw growing there.  

Other ideas for extension include calculating how much five bushels of lupine seeds would weigh converted into pounds, ounces, grams, etc. and taking a field trip to a conservatory.

This is one of my favorite picture books of all time and I knew from the start of this project that I would have to review it. Although I now have a crisp, clean hardcover copy, I will always remember the worn cover of the copy I used to pull down from the shelf as a child. Miss Rumphis was and continues to be a wonderful role model for me.  


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