I read a lot as a child, and one of my very favorite books was Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. It tells the story of a little girl named Alice who lives with her grandparents. Her grandfather tells her stories of all the wonderful places he had visited, and then how he came to live by the sea. Alice tells her grandfather that someday she, too, will travel to faraway places and then come to live by the sea. Her grandfather says, “That is all very well, little Alice, but there is one more thing you must do. You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
So, Alice grows up and becomes a librarian. She is now called Miss Rumphius. But she remembers her dreams and she travels to faraway places until she hurts her back and then she goes to live by the sea. However, Miss Rumphius still does not know what she will do to make the world more beautiful. Finally, she sees the lupines in her garden, and gets an idea. She buys bushels of lupine seeds and walks all over her town, sowing them everywhere. In the spring, lupines are growing in every nook and cranny. Miss Rumphius has made the world more beautiful–the third and hardest thing of all.
At the end of the book, Miss Rumphius is very old. She tells her niece, also named Alice, of all the faraway places she has visited, how she came to live by the sea and how she made the world more beautiful. Alice says that she too, wants to travel until it is time to live by the sea. However, Miss Rumphius reminds her that she must also do something to make the world more beautiful, although little Alice does not know yet what this will be.
A quick Google search gives me this information. Barbara Cooney, Miss Rumphius’ creator, wrote and illustrated more than 100 books. She won the National Book Award for Miss Rumphius in 1983. Barbara Cooney died on March 10, 2000, the day after my tenth birthday. She considered Miss Rumphius to be one of the most biographical of all her books, and it is also one of her most beloved. My search also led me to this blog, entitled “The Miss Rumphius Effect”, by a teacher, and this one, entitled “Miss Rumphius’ Rules”, by a landscape architect. Clearly, others love Miss Rumphius as much as I.
I love this book for many reasons. I love the name Alice, I love the illustrations, I love the simple storytelling of something beautiful. I, too, want to travel to faraway places and maybe live by the sea. But for me, the thing I want to do most is to make the world more beautiful. Miss Rumphius is right when she says that this is the most difficult of all. I, like little Alice, do not know yet what I will do to make the world more beautiful. This part of the autobiography will explore all the possibilities of making the world more beautiful. It will be a celebration of Miss Rumphius and her lupines, a hope for my life, a dream for the future. I may not know what these hopes and dreams will become, but I do know that making the world more beautiful is a dream worth having.
Miss Rumphius for President? I think so.