Miss Rumphius is a classic created by one of America’s most distinguished illustrators of children’s books. During her career of nearly sixty years, Barbara Cooney illustrated more than 100 books and won numerous awards, including the 1983 National Book Award for Miss Rumphius. She was known for traveling extensively to research the different settings in her books in order to make her illustrations as detailed and realistic as possible. About this book, Cooney said, “Miss Rumphius has been, perhaps, the closest to my heart. 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.”
This book tells the life story of Alice Rumphius, who wants to travel to faraway places, spend her old age living by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful. The illustrations in Miss Rumphius are lovely and charming. Cooney chose a horizontal format to allow plenty of space for her expansive landscapes. She used acrylic paints and colored pencils, and filled each page with tiny details. I can see little hairs on the neck of a camel, smoke rising from the chimneys of faraway houses, and black flecks representing lupine seeds. Reading this book transports me to a simpler time and to exotic locales around the world.
Cooney’s inspiring story is filled with rich vocabulary and graceful turns of phrase. Children will learn new words like conservatory and cockatoo by hearing them read aloud in context and by looking at the pictures. This book is best shared one-on-one to give readers and listeners plenty of time to examine the illustrations. Its length and subject make it most likely to appeal to children in kindergarten and above. I remember reading Miss Rumphius when I was a child, and still think of it fondly every time I see a patch of lupines.
Check the WRL catalog for Miss Rumphius.