This my friends, is one of my favorite picture books of all time. Are you tired of hearing that yet? Don't worry, I have approximately 1,743 more favorite books ever to share with you. Seriously though. I loved this when I was little and I love it when I am grown.
Did you notice my little seed vase? I bought it today when I went into our local store for some peanut butter (life staple.) For some reason, it was only $3. And it was ridiculously blue, so I had to buy it.
I love Barbara Cooney's illustrations.
I really love lupines!
Barbara Cooney's books are often written more for an older crowd than the typical 5 year old picture book group. The pages are wordier, the concepts a little more complex. So don't attempt to read this to a bouncy five year old. They might decide to hate it and that would be sad.
Alice lives with her grandparents by the sea. She was enthralled by her grandfather's stories of journeys far beyond the sea and told him, "When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea."
"That is all very well, little Alice," said her grandfather, "but there is a third thing you must do."
"What is that?" asked Alice.
"You must do something to make the world more beautiful," said her grandfather.
"All right," said Alice. But she did not know yet what that could be.
Bam! That right there is why I love this book so much. Seriously, I think about this book a lot. If I had to choose one book that has influenced my life the most, Miss Rumphius would be in the running. Make the world more beautiful. Beauty is so often discarded by serious people as vain and unimportant, but beauty is never unimportant. Beauty feeds the soul. Beauty inspires. Beauty cleanses us. Society's changing idea of what constitutes a beautiful person is not what I am talking about. But the beauty that makes us see the divine in the everyday. A drop of rain on a lupine leaf. A dewy spiderweb. A panoramic sweep of mountains. The perfection of a flower. The heartbreaking beauty of a bird song.
When we somehow draw people's attention to those things, make them notice them, that is when we are making the world more beautiful.
Or so I think.
(Well that got deep pretty quickly.)
While I was philosophizing (that is a word! Oh my!) Miss Rumphius became a librarian. Hooray for librarians!
As a librarian, Miss Rumphius dreams of tropical places. She visits the conservatory as a second best alternative.
Finally, she starts to travel.
And boy, how she travels.
One day she hurts her back getting off a camel and realizes she needs to start thinking of that little house by the sea.
Umm... I want her house by the sea.
As she completes the second thing she told her grandfather she would do, Miss Rumphius starts to think about the third and final thing--making the world more beautiful.
But what? "The world already is pretty nice," she thought, looking out over the ocean.
I can see her point.
She spends a lot of time in her bed one year because of her back. Her world shrinks and the lupines growing outside her window become very important to her. She wishes she could plant more seeds, but with her bad back she is unable to do so.
The following spring, when her back allows her to be up and about she discovers a patch of lupines across a little bay that the wind had seeded from her lupines. The joy this clump of lupines brings her makes her think again of making the world more beautiful.
She hurries home and orders lupine seeds by the bushel.
As she walks the highways and byways of her town by the sea, she spreads the lupine seeds, earning herself the name "That Crazy Old Lady."
The next spring, when the lupines burst forth into bloom, she becomes the Lupine lady.
Miss Rumphius had done the third, the most difficult thing of all!
Miss Rumphius had made the world more beautiful.
And now Miss Rumphius is quite old. But she tells little kids stories about her travels to faraway places.
And encourages them to make the world more beautiful.
(The biologist in me sort of cringes about the lupines overtaking native ecosystems and possibly becoming invasive and a nuisance. But it is like purple loosestrife. I understand I am supposed to hate it because of all the wetland disruption it does, but.... it is awfully purple and pretty!)