Miss Rumphius


  • Title: Miss Rumphius
  • Author and Illustrator: Barbara Cooney
  • Published: 1982
  • Main Characters: Miss Rumphius. Miss Rumphius’s grandfather, Miss Rumphius’s great niece Alice.

 Synopsis of the Story: The story is told through the eyes of young Alice, the great niece of Miss Alice Rumphius. Alice relates how her great aunt, Miss Rumphius grew up in a town by the sea. Miss Rumphius used to visit her grandfather’s art studio where he painted. Her grandfather had come to the town where they now lived many years ago on a big ship. In the evenings Miss Rumphius’s grandfather would sit her on his knee and tell of her of the grand adventures he had experienced when he was sailing around the world. Greatly influenced by her grandfather’s spirit of discovery Miss Rumphius declared:

“When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.”

What Alice’s grandfather told her next was to stay with her the rest of her life:

“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.

Though Alice paid heed to her grandfather’s advice she did not know what she could do to make the world more beautiful.

Miss Rumphius gradually grew up to be a young woman. She worked in a library in a big city, helping people to find books. The library contained books that spoke of faraway places. But she was impatient to see the world with her own eyes. Miss Rumphius travelled far and wide: she climbed to the top of snow-clad mountains, to tropical isles, though jungles and across deserts. Finally she arrived at the land of the Lotus-Eaters and it was here that Miss Rumphius hurt her back while dismounting from a camel.

Miss Rumphius decided that she had travelled enough and that it was time for her to find a place to live beside the sea.

Miss Rumphius found herself a house by the sea. From her porch she could see the sun rising and setting in all its glory. Beside the rocky ground in her garden, Miss Rumphius planted some flower seeds. But she realized she still had one task to complete in her life: that of making the world more beautiful.

That spring Miss Rumphius, who was growing older was taken quite ill. From her bedroom window, she could look upon the cheery sight of the lupines she had planted in the previous summer.

Miss Rumphius made a note to herself to plant more lupines that summer but her health prevented it.

The next spring Miss Rumphius was recovered but she regretted the fact that she had not been able to plant lupines the previous summer. While Miss Rumphius was walking she discovered with great joy a patch of lupines that were growing in a spot a little distance away from her house. Miss Rumphius realized that the birds and wind must have carried the seeds to a distant place and planted them.

It was then that Miss Rumphius had the wonderful idea of planting lupine seeds far and wide across the neighbouring countryside that summer.

The next spring there were lupines growing everywhere and their cheery sight made all the people so very happy to see them.

At long last Miss Rumphius had complete the third and most difficult task of all.

Little Alice, Miss Rumphius’s niece was also inspired to travel to far away places like her great-aunt and also live by the sea.

Needless to say that Miss Rumphius advised her that she must also do a third and very important thing…but little Alice does not know yet how she will fulfill this task.

Notes: This story with its gorgeous acrylic painted illustrations and sweet story line with an important moral are a joy to behold for children and adults alike. I will let the illustrations speak for themselves!



The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff


  • Title: The Story of Babar
  • Author and Illustrator: Jean de Brunhoff
  • Published: 1933
  • Main Characters: Babar (a little elephant),

Short Synopsis of the Story: A little elephant called Babar grew up under the care of his mother in a big forest. One day, some cruel hunters killed Babar’s mother before his very eyes. In a wild panic, Babar fled and ran and ran until he came upon a large town. Once in the town, he met an Old Lady who was kind enough to be Babar’s benefactress. Babar went to a large clothing store and bought himself fine clothes. With the help of a learned professor, Babar received a good education and together, he and the Old Lady spent a happy few years in polite, civilized, social circles in the big city. Despite the comfort and security in his town life, Babar missed his life in the forest. One day, Babar came upon two of his cousins, Celeste and Arthur, who had mischievously escaped from the forest. He spent a few happy days with his cousins, showing them about town and his way of life. When Celeste and Arthur’s mothers come from the forest and find their children it is time to go back. Babar decided that he would go back to the forest with his cousins. Despite feeling sad at leaving the Old Lady, Babar was ready to embrace his old life. When Babar, Celeste and Hector, arrived back in the forest they found that the King of the Elephants had suddenly died from eating a poisonous mushroom. All the elephants proposed that Babar should be their King. Babar accepted their proposal on the grounds that they accept Celeste as their queen. There was a grand marriage ceremony with much celebration and enjoyment and all the animals of the forest attended it. King Babar and Queen Celeste leave on their honeymoon on a big hot-air balloon, eager for new adventures.

Notes: This is a wonderful story with a subtle moral. Babar returns to his old life in the forest, thus relinquishing his life of comfort in the big town. His experiences in the city, placate him in the elephant society and he is deemed worthy of being their King. Babar and his Queen, seek further adventures. Adventure and experience, bring worldliness and hence wisdom.

Apart from having a lovely storyline that will capture the imagination of little children, the illustrations by de Brunhoff are exceptional. Particularly those of Babar dressed in his fine clothes, partaking of amusements that are popular in genteel society. This is deemed to be one of the first graphic novels of it’s kind and de Brunhoff is often referred to as being the father of the contemporary picture book.

I did find the references to Babar’s mother being killed a little shocking though and my three year old daughter was clearly affected by the incident and kept asking about it. Perhaps, death is a fact that needs to be dealt with, however, young we may be. It is a point that I am still pondering.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

  • Title: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Author and Illustrator: Eric Carle
  • Published: 1969
  • Main Characters: A very hungry caterpillar

Short Synopsis of the Story: This is the story of the transformation of a little egg, to a caterpillar, a fat caterpillar, a cocoon and finally a beautiful butterfly.

The story starts with our observing a tiny speck of an egg glistening on a leaf in the moonlight. The next morning, which happens to be a Sunday, the sun comes up and the little egg hatches into a tiny caterpillar. The caterpillar is very hungry and each day of the week it eats something different. On Monday it eats one apple, on Tuesday it eats two pears and so on until by the end of the week it has grown into a very fat green caterpillar.

In the next stage of the caterpillar’s life we notice its transformation into a cocoon where it lies for two weeks until its final emergence as a beautiful butterfly.

Notes: This was one of the first board books I bought for my baby daughter. The illustrations are brightly colored and very attractive. Apart from learning about the amazing transformation of an organism, the book teaches us about different fruits and food, the numbers and the days of the week amongst other things. The best thing about the book are the little holes built into the fruits and foods that the hungry caterpillar nibbles through. The book is a wonderful tactile as well as visual aid for children. This is a classic book to be read again and again.