Making the World More Beautiful: A Review of ‘Miss Rumphius’

Suggested Grade Level:

Kindergarten -2nd Grade

Review and Thoughts

 “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

This was the advice given to the main character, Alice, by her very wise grandfather.  Alice was just a little girl with big dreams, but she took his advice to heart and made it the third goal she hoped to achieve in her lifetime.  But she wasn’t sure exactly how she would do that.

When she grew up she traveled and experienced marvelous sites, adventures, and friendships.  She lived happily by the sea.  “She was almost happy.”  It took Alice a long time to discover how to accomplish her third goal – the challenge given to her by her grandfather.  As an old woman living by the sea Alice saw that the little garden next to her house had scattered its seeds to new and surprising locations.  She saw the beauty and it renewed her effort to spread this beauty.   She began to scatter handfuls of seeds wherever she walked.  The next spring exploded with lupine beauty.  The promise to her grandfather was accomplished.  She had made the world more beautiful.

Alice did not stop there.  She passed the wisdom she had learned from her grandfather to her niece.  Everyone has a choice as to what they will do to make the world more beautiful.  The book tells the story of what Alice discovered and poses the same question to the reader at the end of the story.

This book has always been one of my favorites.  Its simple and beautiful message to make a difference in the world speaks to my heart.  An obvious theme to discuss after reading the book would be the environment, an important issue in today’s world.  Miss Rumphius shows how nature can be cared for and improved to make the world a better place.  Children are very open and excited when they realize they can make a difference and brainstorming about how to protect the environment would be a good start.  There is so much more that can be gleaned from this gentle story, however. Children should understand that our baptism calls us to do the very thing that Alice’s grandfather challenged her to do, and making a difference in this world is an everyday choice.  Our children should be encouraged to serve one another and at this level it can be very simple acts of personal sacrifice—helping a friend pick up a spilled box of crayons or playing with someone who is alone.  A parent can encourage this holy attitude by:  affirming a child’s actions that show an effort to serve; recognizing a person who does something to make the world better and discussing their actions; and looking for characters in stories who make the world a better place with their lives. It’s a constant lesson that needs to be reinforced often, but one that will grow as our children understand they have the power of God within them to make the world more beautiful.

This book was included in a list 21 Picture Books About Strong Girls  I suspect it was chosen because Miss Rumphius independently set goals for herself and accomplished them without needing others to fulfill her dreams.   I look at her a bit differently.  She was a woman who made good decisions for her life and yet in the end was “almost” happy.  When she began to expand her decisions to include the world she becomes the strong woman of grace she was meant to be.

An interesting side note:  This book was dedicated “To Saint Nicholas, patron of children, sailors, and maidens.”

 Further Activities and Discussion

  • Express the beauty of nature. Paint a picture of a lupine. Dip a fingertip into paint and press onto a stem to build the lupine flower. Continue until the flower is complete.
  • Discover the new life held within each seed. Dissect a lima bean seed. Soak a lima bean until the seed coat is wrinkled. Pull the seed coat off.  Gently pull the two halves of the seed apart.  Carefully examine the small plant inside using a magnifying glass.
  • Observe the growth of a seedling. Plant a lima bean seed and keep a journal of its growth.  Illustrate, measure, and record that information in the journal every day for two weeks.
  • Read about a saint. Try St. Francis of Assisi, the saint who loved all nature because it is God’s creation. You can also try St. Therese of Lisieux, the saint who performed small works with great love.

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