Spreading Lupine

Miss Rumphius

Miss Rumphius is a 1982 children’s fiction book by Barbara Cooney.

Plot introduction

The story follows the life of Miss Rumphius from childhood to old age. Miss Rumphius decides what she wants to do in life as a child, and then achieves her goals. The book is popular partly because, after satisfying her personal desires, Miss Rumphius searches for a way to make the world more beautiful.

Plot summary

As a child, Miss Rumphius listens to her seafaring grandfather’s tales about his life. She resolves to travel the world and, when she is old, find a place to live next to the sea. Her grandfather tells her that is all very well, but she must also find a way to make the world more beautiful.

Miss Rumphius chooses a life that does not fit the stereotypical models for women’s lives. She does not marry and have children, nor does she cook and sew or worry about her appearance. Instead she travels the world, experiencing different cultures and environments. After injuring herself getting off a camel, she settles down to live next to the sea.

Her final goal in life, making the world more beautiful, is the one she finds most difficult to achieve. She stumbles on her particular way of achieving this aim by accident. Lupins she has planted scatter their seeds and beautify her neighborhood. The joy she takes in the spreading lupine flowers suggests to her a way she can make the world more beautiful – scatter lupine seeds wherever she walks.

The book is written from the point of view of Miss Rumphius’s niece, who is inspired by Miss Rumphius to live a life that leaves the world more beautiful, just as Miss Rumphius was inspired by her grandfather.

Awards and nominations

Miss Rumphius won the American Book Sellers National Book Award in 1983.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

A film adaptation of Miss Rumphius, was made by Spellbound Productions, Inc. in 2000. The film was directed by Sarah Kerruish and narrated by Claire Danes. It is available as a video in Spanish and English. The film is 18 minutes long.

The film won the UNICEF Prize at the 2002 Barcelona International TV and Video Festival, and a Bronze Plaque at the 2001 Columbus International Film and Video Festival.


Barbara Cooney considered the book ‘autobiographical’

Barbara Cooney considered Miss Rumphius to be one of the three books that she had written that came closest to being autobiographical (the other two were Island Boy, and Hattie and the Wild Waves). Cooney is quoted as saying: “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.” (Denise Ortakales 2000-2002)

Miss Rumphius Award

The book Miss Rumphius has inspired educators to create a 'Miss Rumphius Award'. The award is given to “teachers who have developed exceptional curricular resources on the Internet and share these with others, making all of our instructional worlds better.”

Release details

  • 1982, USA, Viking Press ISBN 0-14-050539-3, November 1982, Hardcover.
  • 1985, USA, Puffin ISBN 0-14-050539-3, Reprint edition 6 November 1985, Paperback.
  • 1997, La senorita Rumfio. Phoebe Ann Porter (Translator), USA, Puffin ISBN 0-14-056231-1, Spanish-Language Edition July 1997, Paperback.

Sources, references, external links, quotations


  • Ortakales, Denise. 2000–2002 Barbara Cooney

External links


  • Hurst, Carol Otis. Miss Rumphius. Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site. Site accessed 26 October, 2006.

Teaching resources based on the novel

  • Fitzgerald, Alissa. Miss Rumphius. Philosophy for kids. Site accessed 26 October, 2006.
  • Frey, Carol and Jennifer Meier. ‘Be a Good Citizen with Miss Rumphius: A WebQuest for 2nd-3rd Grade’. Yorkville CUSD, 2001.
  • Garthwait, Gail. ‘Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney’. Maine Samplers Part 1I. Maine Association of School Libraries. Site accessed 26 October, 2006.
  • Lovelett, Sandvoss, Schoenberg, and Stoll. Pre-reading activity. Last update 4, January, 2000.
  • Liefer, Patricia. ‘Traveling with Miss Rumphius’. Promoting Geographic Knowledge through Literature Workshop, July 7-19, 2002.
  • Milks, Cindy and Cheri Jeralds. ‘Teacher CyberGuide: Miss Rumphius’. San Diego County Office of Education, 1998.
  • Miyoshi-Miller, Cathi. ‘Children’s book illustration: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney’. 27 March, 1999, last update 10 April, 1999.
  • Web English Teacher. Links to teaching resources based on Miss Rumphius. Last updated 17 October, 2005.

Other related websites

  • Information about the Miss Rumphius Award
  • Interviews with the award winners
  • Leu, Donald J. Jr., Rachel A. Karchmer and Deborah Diadiun Leu. The Miss Rumphius Effect: Envisionments for Literacy and Learning That Transform the Internet. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, United States of America, April 1999.
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