In Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney tells the story of Miss Alice Rumphius, a young girl who is inspired by her grandfather’s great stories of adventure. He is an artist who loved to travel and has since settled down to live by the sea. When Alice tells him that she wants to do the same, he adds that there is a third thing she must do:

You must do something to make the world more beautiful.

Miss Rumphius book cover. Story and Pictures by Barbara Cooney

In this classic story, Alice grows up and moves to a faraway places to become a librarian. She also sees tropical and desert places. Along the way, she meets many fascinating people that she will remember forever. Finally, she moves home to Maine, finding herself by the sea. The last thing she must do in order to keep her promise to her grandfather is contribute to the beauty of the world.

She decides to spread lupine seeds around her home and in the town where she lives. Each spring more and more lupines grow. Their lovely blue, purple, and white blooms showing their happy faces along the coast. She has truly made this corner of the world a more beautiful place.

I enjoy this story for its inspiration to do something great. The world’s definition of great looks a lot different than what Miss Rumphius did in spreading her lupine seeds, but its simplicity has brought joy to her community.

Age Level

I would recommend Miss Rumphius for independent reading by 2nd to 3rd graders. However, younger children would love to read it with an adult! It would easily interest students ages 5-8 and adults who love to dream.

I have given this book as a gift to a number of friends who love to travel. My hope is it will remind them to always come home, and, of course, to do something beautiful.


Not only did Barbara Cooney write this sweet book, she illustrated Miss Rumphius as well. One of the things I love about the illustrations is the use of the color blue on each page. It is a consistent reminder that she plans to return to the sea.

Cooney’s artwork is exquisite, and you can see the original works for Miss Rumphius in their permanent  home at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art located in Brunswick, Maine.

Read Aloud

If you enjoy listening to read aloud versions of books, this one is a lot of fun because it is read by Claire Danes.

You might also be interested in learning more about the book, and hearing snippets of the audio version by listening to Sarah Mackenzie from The Read Aloud Revival. She produced a special episode (RAR Special Edition from January 6, 2020) of her podcast to tell her listeners the story of the remarkable Barbara Cooney.

Teaching Opportunities

  • What are your dreams for the future? Do you have similar plans to Miss Rumphius?
  • Describe how Miss Rumphius treats other people. How do you think she feels about them? Why is this important?
    • Discuss how her treatment of others is also contributing to the beauty of the world.
  • Talk about how Miss Rumphius is part of other communities. What connects her to these people?
    • Name some different communities that you are part of.
  • What are some ways you can aspire to make the world a more beautiful place?
    • For older children: how would you define beautiful in terms of what Miss Rumphius has done?


  • National Book Awards for Children’s Books
  • Two time Caldecott winner

Other Books by Barbara Cooney

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