Traditional Thursdays: Miss Rumphius


Time for a traditional Thursday! I love being given the opportunity to go back and appreciate an oldie-but-a-goodie. I stumbled across Miss Rumphius while perusing Amazon booklists and was immediately transported back to my childhood, where I spent hours poring over the story of the “The Lupine Lady” and the gorgeous watercolors that accompanied it.


Miss Rumphius was first published in 1982 and was written and illustrated by two-time Caldecott winner, Barbara Cooney. It is her most well-known piece of work and won the American Book Award in the year it was published. The story depicts the tale of Miss Rumphius, following her life from the time she was “a little girl named Alice,” to her years known as “Miss Rumphius,” mentioning her duration as “That Crazy Old Lady,” and finally resting on her era as “The Lupine Lady.”

The narrative is told from the perspective of Alice, Miss Rumphius’ great-niece. She proudly shares the story of her great-aunt, beginning with when she was a child living by the sea with her grandfather who immigrated to America. Miss Rumphius would listen to his stories about faraway places and then would say, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.” Her grandfather was pleased, but added one more goal to her list: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

Miss Rumphius as a librarian.

Miss Rumphius as a librarian.

The picture book follows Miss Rumphius’ story through her time as a librarian, reading about faraway places, to her time traveling the world and making friends she would never forget, to her growing old by the sea and still questioning how to make the world more beautiful.


Cooney’s illustrations are a key piece to the picture book, a central part of why I loved this book so much as a child. Immediately, the paintings draw you into the story and are a perfect complement to Cooney’s lovely words. The introductory line is a perfect example of this, with a painting of little Alice welcoming you into the story by hanging on the “T” and stretching her arm wide open, accompanying the text, “The Lupine Lady lives in a small house overlooking the sea.” As a child, I was mesmerized by the detailed paintings and completely intrigued by the charming language describing Miss Rumphius. Cooney has a way of painting beautiful mental images as well as wonderful illustrations.

Miss Rumphius sick in bed.

Miss Rumphius sick in bed.

Each page transports the reader to a different world, a different period of Miss Rumphius’ life. Every picture is meticulously created, with its own color schemes surrounding an aging Miss Rumphius. The illustrations are mostly one page creations, until the story reaches its climax and shows how Miss Rumphius has decided to make the world a more beautiful place. This illustration fills the double page, enveloping the reader in Miss Rumphius’ more beautiful world.

Miss Rumphius panoramic530

This story is truly a work of art. I loved everything about reading it as a child, from treasuring every painting, to savoring the thoughts it evoked in my imagination. It inspired me to think about my family history and my life, and I would picture myself traveling and living by the sea. The book filled me with warmth and joy and I’m sure it will continue to do so for children today and in the future.

-Julie Schwab


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