Anyway, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney is absolutely our dreamlife in picture book form. The story and the gorgeous illustrations come together to make what was definitely one of our favorite books growing up. We’ve always wanted to be Alice Rumphius.
The book tells us the story of Alice, who grows up with her artist grandfather, who sometimes lets her paint the skies into his pictures. She wants to be just like him when she grows up. She says that she too will go to faraway places and will live beside the sea. He tells her that there is one more thing she must do in her life – she must do something to make the world more beautiful.
When Alice grows up, she travels the world, to jungles and deserts, and to tall mountains where the snow never melts. Then, dream of all dreams, Alice becomes a librarian. And she moves into her house by the sea. Can you even believe what a dream that house is? I will take it please!
One winter, Alice is very sick, and has to stay in bed. She remembers that there is one more thing on her grandfather’s list that she needs to accomplish. How can she make the world more beautiful? “The world already is pretty nice,” she thought.
The following spring, Alice notices that some of the lupines she’d planted had sprung up not only in her garden, but also across the hillside around her house. “’I don’t believe my eyes!’ she said as she knelt in delight. ‘It was the wind that brought the seeds from my garden here! And the birds must have helped!’” Then she realizes how she can make the world more beautiful. She and her cat (of course she has a cat) travel the countryside and scatter seeds everywhere. The townspeople are like, “What? This catlady is crazy!” But then all of the flowers bloom and they love it and they start to call her the Lupine Lady and come to visit her.
So anyway. We want her life. We want the travels to exotic lands, we want to be a librarian and live in a house by the sea with our cat and have a garden. We want to be the gentle, kind lady who reads books to children and has an awesome grey streak in her sloppy bun. The book doesn’t mention it, but it’s pretty obvious from how awesome Alice is that she also bakes a lot of cookies and drinks tea on that fabulous seaside porch. She is just all in all, a genuinely good person.
Miss Rumphius is such a wonderful example to kids – and grown up G&G Girls – of what a wonderful life looks like. It may seem weird to have a fictional role model, but hey, if the shoe fits…
Also, check out what a babe the author/illustrator was. The lovely Miss Cooney said that the book was the closest she would ever come to an autobiography. In today’s world of Hello Kitty and oversimplified rhyming “books” about sharing, we couldn’t agree more with her philosophy: “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.” Amen Barbara. And she said that in 1959, can you imagine how appalled she would be today!?
We think we could have been good friends.