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Miss Rumphius: The Lupine Lady

Jenna Myers's picture

The book I chose to analyze is called Miss Rumphius written by Barbara Cooney. A summary of the story is about a little girl named Alice and her grandfather would tell her stories about living in faraway places. She tells him that when she grows older she would like to travel to faraway places and live by the sea. But her grandfather tells her that she must also make the world more beautiful. The story continues when she is all grown up and begins traveling to faraway places such as tropical islands, mountains, jungles, and deserts. Then after her travels she finds a little house by the sea to live in and she plants flowers in her garden. After she plants the flowers she becomes ill and stays in her home for most of spring. When she was well enough the next time spring came in she had lupines in her garden. She realizes that in order to make the world more beautiful she will plant lupine seeds everywhere so that they will bloom the following spring. When spring came around there were lupines everywhere and everyone called her The Lupine Lady. At the end of the book she tells her niece that she must also do something to make the world more beautiful.

I chose this book because it was one of my favorite books as a child. After reading this book I would always think of how to make the world more beautiful. Now as I am re-reading it I noticed the language of the book and mainly the sentence “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” Based on this particular sentence, the author is telling children that the world is a beautiful place but through the illustrations she focuses just on environments such as tropical islands, deserts, mountains, and hills. This would cause for children to only think of ways to make the “natural” world more beautiful. It is interesting to think why Cooney wouldn’t include some illustration focusing on cities and ways in which to make cities more beautiful. 

I also found it interesting why she chose to use lupines. I discovered that some species of lupines are considered to be invasive weeds when they are outside their native ranges ( By having the Lupine Lady plant these throughout the hills in what might not be a native range, she is introducing weeds (something that most gardeners pull out because it destroys the beauty of their garden or surrounding area). In a way Cooney might be trying to convey that we should think of everything as beautiful, even the weeds in our life (though children might not get the connection).

The fact that the Lupine Lady decides to plant lupines to make the world more beautiful shows children that nature such as planting flowers would make the world more beautiful. Instead of using the word beautiful, maybe Cooney should have written cleaner or healthier instead. Since this children’s book was written in 1982, there wasn’t much talk of climate change and the problems that the Earth has. If this book were written now, maybe Cooney could have used the word healthier. That way it would teach children that the Earth is a beautiful place, both the natural side and the city side. But due to overconsumption and the start of factories we have started hurting the planet by producing more carbon dioxide. Children could learn that they could make the world more “beautiful” or healthy by cutting down on our CO2 emissions. Instead of just making the world more aesthetically pleasing by planting flowers. 


jccohen's picture

making the world beautiful


Interesting that the book starts with the little girl and her grandfather.  To me this connects with the messages of Bowers and other educators we’ve read that promoting intergenerational knowledge should be a key aspect of environmental education; without this we lose the knowledge of how people from our communities have lived in and with the environment.  The notion that this is intentional in your book is strengthened for me by the fact that later the Lupine Lady passes the same wisdom on to her niece.


You note that the book represents the “world” that we’re to make more “beautiful” as one of  “tropical islands, deserts” and so on, and that the term “beautiful” is aesthetic and perhaps doesn’t speak to environmental concerns like “health.”  Good point about the absence of urban environments here.  It’s interesting to consider this in light of the publication date: this seems to me to reflect a split between “nature” and human community that has been characteristic of people’s understandings (and thus many children’s books) until some of the more recent critiques and rethinkings we’ve been reading about and discussing.   


I see your point about the word “beautiful,” but I wonder whether use of the word “healthier” instead would forfeit the power that “beauty” evokes for children (and, actually, all of us).  Sobel and others that we’ve read this semester claim that we have to love the environment in order to become dedicated environmentalists, for example.  In this instance and overall, I think your analysis of the book would be deepened by using some of our shared texts that are relevant, e.g. Sobel, perhaps Bateson (with his idea about the “pattern that connects” human and nature, perhaps Freeman and Trantnor on urban environments…).